Sunday, March 24, 2013


Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have made the data available as a free download from their website. The group will present a paper describing the genome later this year. 'But we make the genome sequence freely available now to allow other scientists to profit from it even before it is published' said Dr Svante Pääbo, who led the project.

Dr Pääbo and his colleagues in 2010 presented the first draft of the Neanderthal genome from data collected from three bones found in a cave in Croatia. They have now used a toe bone excavated in 2010 in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia to generate a high-quality genome from a single Neanderthal individual. The Leipzig team used sensitive techniques developed there over the past two years to sequence every position in the genome about 50 times over, using DNA extracted from 0.038 grams of the bone.

The analysis of the genome together with partial genome sequences from other Neanderthals, and the genome from a small finger bone discovered in the same cave, shows that the individual is closely related to other Neanderthals in Europe and western Russia. Remarkably, Neanderthals and their relatives, Denisovans, were both present in this unique cave in the Altai Mountains on the border between Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

In the 2010 draft version of the Neanderthal genome, each position was determined, on average, once. In the now-completed version of the genome every position was determined on average 50 times over. This allows even the small differences between the copies of genes that this individual inherited from its mother and father to be distinguished. This family tree relates this genome to the genomes of Neanderthals from Croatia, Germany and the Caucasus as well as the Denisovan genome recovered from a finger bone also excavated at Deniosva Cave

The Neanderthal genome was sequenced thanks to the discovery of just a toe bone, and it was an even tinier fragment of finger that allowed the same researchers to map out the entire genetic code of Denisovan man. Evidence suggests that the Denisovans, a little-known ancient cousin of modern humans who lived in Siberia around 50,000 years ago, had dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes. The existence of the Denisovans was only confirmed in 2010, but previous research has already suggested they co-existed with Neanderthals and interbred with our own species, Homo sapiens. The scientists found that the Denisovans were most genetically similar to Australian aborigines and island populations from south-east Asia.

The bone used to sequence the genome was discovered by Professor Anatoly Derevianko and Professor Michael Shunkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2010 during excavations at the Denisova Cave. The cave is a unique archaeological site which contains cultural layers indicating is has been occupied by humans and our ancestors from as early as 280,000 years ago.

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