Grump grumpity grump – a headline like that & we don’t have full access to the journal (only up to a year ago)…. But anyway – on The Panda’s Thumb there’s a report of a research project which has achieved the full Neandertal mitochondrial DNA sequence. TPT quotes a conclusion from the summary of the paper:
Analysis of the assembled sequence unequivocally establishes that the Neandertal mtDNA falls outside the variation of extant human mtDNAs, and allows an estimate of the divergence date between the two mtDNA lineages of 660,000 +/- 140,000 years (Green et al. 2008).
On The Panda’s Thumb, Jim Foley goes on to say that
The Neandertal mtDNA sequence was compared with mtDNA from chimpanzees and 53 modern humans. The human mtDNA sequences had between 2 and 118 differences from each other. The number of differences between the human mtDNAs and the Neandertal mtDNA varied from 201 to 234.
(There’s a nice graph of the data too.)
A number of earlier studies of Neandertal mtDNA have also found differences between Neandertal & modern human sequences. Taken with these, the latest study certainly provides strong support for the current designation of Neandertals in a separate species, Homo neandertalensis (which shows how science operates: when I was a student, a long time ago, there was just fossil evidence to go on, & many scientists viewed Neandertals as a subspecies of H. sapiens).
And TPT also links to a more detailed examination of the paper by Green et al.
I just love the way molecular biology allows us to refine our understanding of evolutionary relationships (even though I like fossils better!).
R.E. Green, A-S Malaspinas, J. Krause, A.W. BRiggs, P.L.F. Johnson, C. Uhler, M. Meyer, J.M. Good, T. Maricic, U. Stenzel, K. Prufer, M. Siebauer, H.A. Burbano, M. Ronan, J.M. Rothberg, M.Egholm, P.Rudan, D. Brajkovic, Z. Kucan, I. Gusic, M. Wikstrom, L. Laakkonen, J. Kelso, M. Slatkin & S. Paabo (2008) A complete Neandertal mitochondrial genome sequence determined by high-throughput sequencing. Cell 134(3): 416-426