Half a gram of Neanderthal bone enough to discover genome

February 13th, 2009 - 8:35 am ICT by IANS  

Leipzig (Germany), Feb 13 (DPA) Less than half a gram of Neanderthal bone, collected from skeletons in Croatia, Spain, Russia and Germany, was enough to decode the genome of humanity’s relative, scientists said.
A team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the US company 454 Life Sciences have sequenced more than three billion sections of Neanderthal DNA. The next step will be to compare the genome with that of humans.

Ralf Schmitz heads the team that is studying the original Neanderthal bones discovered in 1856 in the Neander gorge near Dusseldorf in Germany which led to the species’ name. There is a museum at the site today.

Schmitz said he expected those studies to reveal within 10 years how the two species were related. He said the Neanderthal genome “has been read, but not yet decoded”.

He said he also expected key data on Neanderthal metabolism using the DNA data “within five to 10 years.” This might explain why the Neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago. One theory suggests they could not adapt to changes of food in times of famine.

Schmitz said no genetic studies had been conducted yet of a further, female Neanderthal he discovered in 1997 at the Neander site. “She’s still in a holding pattern,” he said.

In Leipzig, the Max Planck Institute said the sequencing so far had established more than 60 percent of the Neanderthal genome.

One aim of the future study will be to see if Neanderthals had the FOXP2 gene, which is believed to enable humans to speak.

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