Friday, May 7, 2010

Neanderthals and Me: New Data About Old Relatives

"Neanderthal Genome Shows Most Humans Are Cavemen"
Wired Science (May 6, 2010)

"After years of anticipation, the Neanderthal genome has been sequenced. It's not quite complete, but there's enough for scientists to start comparing it with our own.

"According to these first comparisons, humans and Neanderthals are practically identical at the protein level. Whatever our differences, they're not in the composition of our building blocks.

"However, even if the Neanderthal genome won't show scientists what makes humans so special, there's a consolation prize for the rest of us. Most people can likely trace some of their DNA to Neanderthals.

" 'The Neanderthals are not totally extinct. In some of us they live on a little bit, said Max Planck Institute evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo...."

When I read that "humans and Neanderthals are practically identical at the protein level," I wondered if that meant that humans are practically identical, or humans whose ancestors lived in Europe for the last few thousand years are practically identical. The researchers took ethnicity/ancestry into account:

"...the researchers produced a more immediately stirring result. They compared the Neanderthal genome to genomes of five people from China, France, Papua New Guinea, southern Africa and western Africa. Among non-Africans, between one and four percent of all DNA came from Neanderthals...."

The Wired Science article goes into a fair level of detail about this research. Interesting, if you're into that sort of thing: which I am.

Folks in Africa don't have the Neanderthal heritage: which isn't all that surprising, considering what's been happening for the last 160,000 or so years. ("'Journey of Mankind:' 160,000 Years of Ups and Downs" (November 1, 2007)) From the looks of it, my ancestors had a serious case of 'sand in the shoes,' and moved out of Africa a long, long time ago. Later, finding their way back might have been tricky: and I'm not convinced that the more sensible folks, who didn't go gallivanting off to the ragged edge of nowhere, would have been all that glad to have the crazy ones back.

Gene Pools and Haircuts

I'm not at all surprised to learn that there's physical evidence that there's Neanderthal DNA in my family's gene pool. My ancestors came from places not far from where Neanderthals lived: and I've seem a fair number of folks who don't look all that much different from the gentleman in that picture. Give him a haircut and a suit of clothes - and language lessons - and he probably wouldn't have that much trouble fitting in.

I don't look very much like a Neanderthal, myself: but I don't look like my Campbell forebears, either. My branch of the clan lost the 'wry mouth' that gave us our name several generations back. Change happens.

Related posts:

What's a nice Catholic fellow doing, writing about Neanderthals? Ultra-terse answer: My faith doesn't encourage me to ignore facts or reason. I've discussed this sort of thing before, in another blog:
The word "evolution" evokes very strong emotions in some folks. Emotions and logic don't play well together. As discussed in yet another blog:


Brigid said...

Was this stutter in the original? "humans and Neanderthals are are practically"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Nope. As you saw in the excerpt. Thanks! Found & fixed.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

The Wired Science story had a variety of comments, including these:

"Posted by: eddlemsg | 05/6/10 | 5:06 pm |

"I’m not suprised by this I swear everytime I see one of the forensic rebuilds of a Neanderthal face, I see one or more of my wife’s uncles brow ridges and receding chin and all!
No wonder white men can’t jump… Neanderthal genes. lol

"Posted by: Reow | 05/6/10 | 7:22 pm |

"I'm just curious… are Christians now going to claim Neanderthals had souls, or are they ready to give up their belief that humans are different from animals?"

I'm Catholic, so by some folks' standards, I'm not "Christian" at all. And - I certainly don't think we're different from animals - or plants, or fungi - at the sub-cellular level. Physically, we're primates: apes, specifically; unless we belong in a separate classification.

As for having souls: that's not something anybody'll find in DNA or fingernail clippings.

I've written about this sort of thing before: You could check out the links I put after "What's a nice Catholic fellow doing, writing about Neanderthals?"

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