New DNA Test Is Yielding Clues to Neanderthals





The archaic human species that dominated Europe until 30,000 years ago is about to emerge from the shadows. With the help of a new DNA sequencing machine that operates with firefly light, the bones of the Neanderthals have begun to tell their story to geneticists.

One million units of Neanderthal DNA have already been analyzed, and a draft version of the entire genome, 3.2 billion units in length, should be ready in two years, said Dr. Svante Paabo, the leader of the research project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Biologists expect knowledge of the Neanderthal genome to reveal, by its differences with the human genome, many distinctive qualities of what it means to be human. Researchers also hope to resolve such questions as whether the Neanderthals spoke, their hair and skin color, and whether they interbred at all with the modern humans who first arrived on their doorstep 45,000 years ago, or were driven to extinction without leaving any genetic legacy.

Dr. Paabo has shared some of his precious sample of Neanderthal DNA with Edward M. Rubin of the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif., whose team has identified 62,250 units of Neanderthal DNA by a different method. The two teams report their results in this week’s issues of the journals Nature and Science respectively, saying they have independently demonstrated that recovery of the Neanderthal genome is now possible.


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