Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Recreating the Neanderthal Genome

First the disclaimer: this advance is not going to lead to live Neanderthals walking around, although you wonder when you look at some U.S. professional football teams or European soccer fans.
Now the news: Svante Pääbo and his team at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology believe they can sequence the entire Neanderthal genome. They may be able to reconstruct that of other species, like the mammoths and "cave bears" that once roamed Europe, but the Neanderthal project is definitely the "headliner" here. The German scientists report they have new techniques from getting "clean" fragments of DNA from specimens many thousands of years old and preventing them from being contaminated by modern microbes or human researchers. This should allow them to stitch together a complete genome using fragments from multiple individuals. This could answer the most intriguing question about Neanderthals - whether they were simply pushed aside by modern humans, eventually withering to extinction, or whether the two subspecies of Homo sapiens interbred.

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