Hot human-on-neanderthal action: A scientific update


So, remember a few weeks ago when new genetics research challenged the accepted idea that humans and neanderthals had never knocked boots? Back then, I mentioned that we were waiting to hear from Svante Pääbo, a hominid genetics expert who was due to publish his findings from sequencing the neanderthal genome. The Pääbo data would be the key to clearing up this ancient soap-operatic mystery.

This week, Pääbo weighed in and the answer looks pretty clear: If your ancestors are from anyplace other than Africa, you've got a little neanderthal in you. And so did your great-great-etc. grandma.

In fact, researchers can actually narrow down the location where at least some of this hanky panky happened.

all non-Africans - be they from France, China or Papua New Guinea - share the same amount of Neanderthal DNA, suggesting that interbreeding occurred before those populations split. The timing makes the Middle East the likeliest place where humans leaving Africa and resident Neanderthals did the deed.

Interestingly, there's not any one trait or even genetic sequence that seems to come from the neanderthals. Everybody (except Africans) is a little bit neanderthal, but it's not the same little bit.

Got questions? This New Scientist feature has answers.

Image courtesy Flickr user erix, via CC