"In the future, I think scientists will be able to identify DNA from other extinct hominin, just by analyzing modern human genomes," Vernot said.
"From our end, this was an entirely computational project," he added, "I think it's really interesting how careful application of the correct statistical and computational tools can uncover important aspects of health, biology and human history. Of course, you need good data, too."
Neanderthals became extinct about 30,000 years ago. Their time on the earth, and some of their geographic range, overlapped with humans who anatomically resembled us.
The two closely related groups mated and produced some fertile offspring, such that portions of Neanderthal DNA were passed along to the next generations. In a proposed model, this mixing of DNA could have occurred both before and after the evolutionary divergence of non-African modern humans from a common ancestral population.
It didn't necessarily take a lot of individual hybrid offspring to introduce Neanderthal genes into early human populations. Still, Akey said that it isn't known how many Neanderthal ancestors present-day humans have.
But past interactions between the groups, Akey noted, is probably more complicated than previously thought.
"In addition, the analysis of surviving archaic lineages points to the possibility that there were fitness costs to the hybridization of Neanderthal and humans," Akey said.
"I think what was most surprising to me," Vernot noted, "is that we found evide
|Contact: Leila Gray|
University of Washington