Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Neanderthal Genome Project

From an article in The New Yorker titled "Sleeping With the Enemy":

Evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany are in the midst of many projects that attempt to define what makes us Human, but are most notably working on sequencing the entire genome of the Neanderthal. So far they have determined that at some point humans interbred with Neanderthals and that all non-africans have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA replacing the "Out of Africa" theory of migration with what has been dubbed the "Leaky Replacement" hypothesis. In order to complete this daunting task the team uses high throughput sequencing that enables scientists to replicate tens of thousands of snippets of DNA at a time which are extracted from ancient bone fragments.
The article also focuses on Pääbo's career starting from when he was a PhD student studying viruses fantasizing about extracting DNA from mummies. A brief history of Neanderthal anthropology is featured in the story as well. With his research project, Pääbo is most interested in determining what genetic mutation resulted in the "craziness" that is only found in modern humans. To quote Pääbo, "it will be amazing to think that it was this little inversion on this chromosome that made all this happen and changed the whole eco-system of the planet and made us dominate everything. We are crazy in some way. What drives it? That would be really, really cool to know."

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