Some readers have asked me what I think of the reporting from the recent Biology of Genomes conference, that Qiaomei Fu and colleagues from Svante Pääbo’s group have demonstrated a very recent Neandertal ancestry for the famous mandible from Peștera cu Oase, Romania. This is the earliest-known “modern” human in Europe, around 40,000 years old. For example, this report from Ewen Callaway: “Early European may have had Neanderthal great-great-grandparent”.
They estimate that 5–11% of the bone's genome is Neanderthal, including large chunks of several chromosomes. (The genetic analysis also shows that the individual was a man). By analysing how lengths of DNA inherited from any one ancestor shorten with each generation, the team estimated that the man had a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous 4–6 generations. (The researchers declined to comment on the work because it has not yet been published in a journal).
I have two thoughts:
- This is no surprise.
- I’m very pleased that the authors are talking about this work at meetings and that journalists are reporting on the work. I hope that the broader awareness of this work as it is happening will cause other people to find things they might not have noticed before. I also hope that it will not prejudice the publication of this work in a high profile journal, should the authors choose to pursue that route.
OK, I have more than two thoughts, but unfortunately, until I see the details I won’t be able to comment intelligently on most of the interesting questions. I do wonder: Why does anyone think they can tell a Neandertal from a “modern human” in this time period from a tooth?
Of course, all the facts are already on Wikipedia…