February 14, 2009

Neanderthal genetic code revealed

International researchers say they have completed a draft of the genetic blueprint of Neanderthals, humans' primitive cousin.

The scientists say their discovery shows Neanderthals made very little, if any contribution to human genes, USA Today reported Saturday.

Neanderthals occupied Europe from about 800,000 to 30,000 years ago, the newspaper noted.

Team chief Svante Paabo of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig said their findings provide a good overview of the Neanderthal genome.

We see this as a tool for future biologists (looking for) what's really unique to modern humans, Paabo was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

For their research, scientists relied on a 37,000-year-old thigh bone found in Croatia, a 43,000-year-old bone from Spain, a 41,000 year-old-bone from Germany and a 70,000-year-old bone from Mezmaiskaya Cave in the Caucasus.

University of Utah anthropological geneticist Henry Harpending is impressed by the scientists' work.

I think it is spectacular, to get something out of bones 40,000 years old, absolutely stunning, he said.