Tuesday, May 16, 2006

First Nuclear Neanderthal DNA Sequenced

Neanderthal DNA yields to genome foray

From Rex Dalton at news@nature.com:

The first nuclear DNA sequences from a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) have been reported. The results should provide clues about when certain diseases, or traits such as hair or skin colour, arose. They also have geneticists excited about the idea of sequencing a Neanderthal genome.

Svante Pääbo, a palaeogeneticist, and his team have probed 60 Neanderthal specimens from museums for hints that the DNA might have survived millennia of degradation. The species lived across Europe and western Asia from 300,000 to around 30,000 years ago, with the first specimen found in 1856 near Dusseldorf, Germany.

On May 12th Pääbo's team reported at the Biology of Genomes meeting at New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that they had managed to sequence around a million base pairs of nuclear DNA — around 0.03% of the genome . This from is a 45,000-year-old male specimen found in Vindija Cave outside Zagreb, Croatia.

One finding so far is that the Neanderthal Y chromosome is substantially more different from human and chimp Y chromosomes than are other chromosomes. This suggests that little interbreeding occurred, at least among the more recent Neanderthal species.

James Noonan, a postdoc in Rubin's lab, reported at the Cold Spring Harbor meeting that preliminary analysis of the 75,000 base pairs sequenced so far shows that Neanderthals diverged from the lineage that led to modern humans about 315,000 years ago - around the time that had been thought. Homo sapiens is known to have evolved at least 200,000 years ago.