Friday, November 17, 2006

New DNA Test Is Yielding Clues to Neanderthals

Scientists are sequencing the DNA of a Neanderthal with a new DNA sequencing machine.

But recently a new kind of DNA sequencing machine was invented. Made by 454 Life Sciences of Branford, Conn., it prompts each DNA unit to generate a flash of light by stimulating the firefly enzyme luciferase. The flashes are captured by the same sort of image-sensing plate used in telescopes to capture starlight. From the timing and position of the flashes, a computer reconstructs the sequence of the DNA units. The kind of DNA the 454 machine works best with are tiny fragments the size of those found in old bones.
Luciferase? Are they just trying to shove this one in the face of Creationists?

So, how similar are we?
From the data so far, Dr. Rubin’s team reports that the Neanderthal and human genomes are at least 99.5 percent identical. Dr. Paabo’s team has calculated that the “effective” size of the founding Neanderthal population was about 3,000, corresponding to a census size of fewer than 10,000 individuals.

The genetic differences between humans and Neandertals is "a drop in the bucket" compared to the estimated 30 million to 50 million base pair differences between humans and chimpanzees, he said.
That sounds pretty close.

I don't get how they can determine the population size from the DNA of just one individual. I should look into that.

Could they talk?
If the full Neanderthal genome is retrieved, biologists may be able to ask if the Neanderthals had language by looking at their version of the human gene known as FOXP2, thought to be one of the last components to evolve in mediating the modern human language faculty. FOXP2 has changed significantly since the human lineage split apart from that of chimps some six million years ago. If the Neanderthal version resembles the chimp version, that would make it less likely they had modern, syntactical language.
That is pretty cool, but we are just beating around the bush. Let's clone this sucker.

via NY Times and National Geographic

1 comment:

crush41 said...

From what I understand, about one in one thousand nuclear DNA sequences vary between humans. That would make the most divergent humans about 99.9% the same. Does that mean that the difference between disparate human groups might be larger than the difference between some humans and Neanderthals?

I brought this question up at Gene Expression but haven't received an answer.

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