Teaser on Neandertal genomics10 Jul 2006
There is an article about the nuclear genome work on Neandertals running in Wired, by reporter Annalee Newitz (first on Gene Expression). There's not much to comment on there, but it has a priceless exchange of quotes between the Eddy Rubin and Erik Trinkaus:
Rubin dismisses the analysis of bone structure for which Trinkaus is famous, comparing anthropologists to phrenologists. He adds that lots of things can appear different in the bone structure of two organisms even if their genomes are very similar.
Trinkaus shoots back, "Genetics is trendy now. But theyre only looking for the presence of Neanderthal genes in current populations - and that doesn't tell you what happened 30,000 years ago." He says that Neanderthals and humans could have mated but produced offspring that didn't thrive; those hybrid genomes would have been eliminated over the generations by natural selection. In such a scenario, the genetic footprint left by Neanderthals in the human genome would be vanishingly small.
I suspect there will be more to say on this subject after next week. In the meantime, consider this:
At last, Rubin calls me. "Big news," he says. His first major conclusion is that humans and Neanderthals diverged into recognizably separate groups about 500,000 years ago, a date anthropologists have long sought to pin down. He and his team determined this by counting the differences between select sequences of the Neanderthal genome and the human genome. Since mutations usually occur at a predictable rate, it was easy to tell when the species split.
I'm thinking that a special case of the scatterplot conjecture may come into play here. We'll see soon enough.