Thursday, November 16, 2006

Neanderthal genes partly decoded

The bone was found in Croatia. About one million out of 3.3 billion DNA base pairs has been mapped out by Edward Rubin et al. in Berkeley. While we share 98 percent DNA with the chimps, our DNA overlaps in 99.95 percent with the Neanderthal guy. Our ancestors and the Neanderthal men probably split 370,000 or half a million years ago. There doesn't seem to be evidence of sex in between the two groups that would take place 30,000 or 40,000 years ago although it can't quite be excluded. Incidentally, mtDNA of twelve Neanderthal humans has already been decoded previously but the normal DNA is needed to answer more detailed questions.

The Neanderthal race or species was tougher, stronger. It was getting mature earlier and was more able to resist the cold weather. Nevertheless, they seem to be gone today. Both species, ours and Neanderthal, evolved from Homo erectus who exploded from Africa about 1.5 million years ago. The Neanderthal guys in Europe comprised the first wave of immigrants that lived in Europe up to 30,000 years ago; the particular individual they decoded lived 38,000 years ago. The second wave of immigration from Africa occured as recently as 40,000 years ago: the Cromagnon people were our direct ancestors.

Even though the number 99.95% may seem high, decoding 0.03% of the DNA base pairs was enough to prove a nearly perfect racial segregation. Incidentally, some evolutionary theorists have recently argued that our species may eventually split into two, an elite and an underclass, by the same mechanisms.