Cold Spring Harbor, NY How much do we, who are alive today, differ from our most recent evolutionary ancestors, the cave-dwelling Neandertals, hominids who lived in Europe and parts of Asia and went extinct about 30,000 years ago? And how much do Neandertals, in turn, have in common with the ape-ancestors from which we are both descended, the chimpanzees?
Although we are both hominids, the fossil record told us long ago that we differ physically from Neandertals, in various ways. But at the level of genes and the proteins that they encode, new research published online today in the journal Science reveals that we differ hardly at all. It also indicates that we both Neandertals and modern humans differ from the chimps in virtually identical ways.
"The astonishing implication of the work we've just published," says Prof. Gregory Hannon, Ph.D., of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), "is that we are incredibly similar to Neandertals at the level of the proteome, which is the full set of proteins that our genes encode."
Collaboration with a paleogenetics pioneer
Hannon, who is also an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is well known for his work on small RNAs and RNA interference, was invited this past year to help examine Neandertal DNA by Dr. Svante Pbo, a pioneer in paleogenetics, a field that employs genome science to study early humans and other Paleolithic-era creatures. In a separate paper, Pbo's team today publishes in the same issue of Science the first complete genome sequence for Neandertal, an achievement that builds on work he has led since 2006 at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Genomics in Leipzig.
"Dr. Pbo's publication of the full Neandertal genome is a watershed event, a major historical achievement," Hannon says. "The work we conducted in collaboration with his team is only a small part of the larger effort, but it helps us put the Neandertal
|Contact: Peter Tarr|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory