(Photo : Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
We may make fun of them as less-evolved, but Neanderthals are an important link in human evolution, and in an effort to understand them better, scientists have just completed and released the most in-depth sequence of a Neanderthal genome.
The genome sequence is available for free online, a move that the researchers involved hope will foster an open-source environment.
To achieve this, Svante Paabo and fellow researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany utilized DNA from some old fossils they dug up.
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"The figure (above) shows a tree relating this genome to the genomes of Neandertals from Croatia, from Germany and from the Caucasus as well as the Denisovan genome recovered from a finger bone excavated at Deniosva Cave. It shows that this individual is closely related to these other Neandertals. Thus, both Neandertals and Denisovans have inhabited this cave in southern Siberia, presumably at different times," reads the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology website.
The quality of the genome sequence is so thorough and complete, that some scientists even say it's better than some modern-day sequences.
"The genome of a Neanderthal is now there in a form as accurate as that of any person walking the streets today," Paabo told The Associated Press.
"The genome is of very high quality", institute researcher Kay Prufer said. "It matches the quality of the Denisovan genome, presented last year, and is as good as or even better than the multiple present-day human genomes available to date."
Denisovans are relatives of Neanderthals, and help fill out the evolutionary tree our species has descended from.
"We will gain insights into many aspects of the history of both Neanderthals and Denisovans and refine our knowledge about the genetic changes that occurred in the genomes of modern humans after they parted ways with the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans," Paabo said.
The team of scientists involved in the project also plan on publishing a paper on the findings later this year.