The date Neanderthals parted from humans

17th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

17 November 2006, Leipzig, Germany (dpa) - Two international teams specializing in DNA studies announced Wednesday they have calculated the date - half a million years ago - when Neanderthals diverged from modern human beings. The calculations are a way-station in efforts to decode the complete genome of Neanderthals, the extinct hominids whose existence was discovered 150 years ago with a fossil find in a German quarry. The scientists only have a few smudges of cell material from fossil finds to analyse.

17 November 2006

Leipzig, Germany (dpa) - Two international teams specializing in DNA studies announced Wednesday they have calculated the date - half a million years ago - when Neanderthals diverged from modern human beings.

The calculations are a way-station in efforts to decode the complete genome of Neanderthals, the extinct hominids whose existence was discovered 150 years ago with a fossil find in a German quarry.

The scientists only have a few smudges of cell material from fossil finds to analyse.

One team, led by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, compared human, Neanderthal and chimpanzee DNA to calculate that the divergence took place about 516,000 years ago.

The Paabo group said it hoped to complete the genome within two years. The research was published in the British journal Nature.

Experts said it was basically in harmony with a second, simultaneous report in the US journal Science from a group led by Edward Rubin of the Energy Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California.

The Rubin group said the last common ancestor had been 706,000 years ago. The two had been separate species by 370,000 years ago, although at least 99.5 per cent of their DNA was identical.

The Nature report suggested the two hominids may have interbred, but no evidence for that was found in the Science report.

At the Neanderthal Museum in Germany, near the long-vanished cave where the first remains were found in August 1856, archaeologist Baerbel Auffermann said it was "sensational" that Paabo and his colleagues had obtained results so fast.

Deputy museum head Auffermann said the findings were a good fit with archaeologists' findings about the hominids, who died out about 30,000 years ago.

Past DNA studies have been limited to mitochondrial DNA, inherited from mothers only. The Paabo group is using new techniques to detect complete DNA. They found sufficient traces on six out of 70 bones and teeth dug up in Europe and Asian to reconstruct 1 million DNA pairs.

Auffermann cautioned that DNA could not answer the keenest questions, such as exactly when Neanderthals died out and whether this was linked to climate. The hominids were named after the Neanderthal gorge on the river Duessel in the west of Germany.

DPA

Subject: German news

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