A very exciting article was published in Nature magazine today:
Analysis of One Million Base Pairs of Neanderthal DNA
This is really more of a report of a proof of concept, the ability and technique to sequence ancient DNA from a 45,000 year old specimen.
There is also some good coverage on the Science Blog:
The veil of mystery surrounding our extinct hominid cousins, the Neanderthals, has been at least partially lifted to reveal surprising results. Scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) have sequenced genomic DNA from fossilized Neanderthal bones. Their results show that the genomes of modern humans and Neanderthals are at least 99.5-percent identical, but despite this genetic similarity, and that the two species cohabitated the same geographic region for thousands of years, there is no evidence of any significant crossbreeding between the two. Based on these early results, Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis last shared a common ancestor approximately 700,000 years ago.
Most of the coverage goes out of its way to say that there was no inter-breeding between Neanderthals and modern man. However, for some reason, the Gene Expression blog is reporting the opposite.
The most exciting news is that they are kicking off a 2-year program to fully sequence the Neanderthal genome. The New York Times has the best article on the topic I can find online.
We are going to learn an incredible amount about hominid evolution and ourselves through this process. I’m also quite excited about the eventual ethical debates about whether or not we should at some point try to clone a real Neanderthal. In particular, I’d be very interested to hear the arguments from the anti-evolution crowd about whether or not they would consider this cloning a human being.
Purely theoretical at this point, since we don’t have the technology… yet.