Scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute have released a final version of a high-quality sequencing of a Neanderthal genome, which could shed light on why humans survived and earlier hominid species did not.
"The genome of a Neanderthal is now there in a form as accurate as that of any person walking the streets today," Svante Paabo, a geneticist, told the Associated Press. Paabo led the research project as part of the Institute’s Evolutionary Anthropology department.
Neanderthals are the closest relative to humans and existed as recently as 30,000 years ago. It is believed by many scientists that modern humans, Homo sapiens, drove them to extinction. Humans and Neanderthals became divergent branches on the evolutionary tree more than 300,000 years ago.
The DNA for the sequencing came from a toe bone found in a Siberian cave is far more detailed than a previous "draft" Neanderthal genome sequenced three years ago by the same team.
The DNA confirmed speculation that humans, interbred with Neanderthals as they spread from the African plains to the Middle East and northern Africa, but that it happened about 80,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.
The research team hopes to compare the new genome sequence to that of other Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans, another extinct hominid group, the genome of which was extracted from remains in the same cave.
Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who wasn't involved in the Leipzig study, told the AP it was "exciting times" for comparative studies of humans and our closest extinct relatives.