Copyright: Neanderthal Museum/H. Neumann
Copyright: Neanderthal Museum/H. Neumann

An Up-to-Date Neanderthal Genome Fits Into the Web of Humanity

There’s more news on the ancient human DNA front: as I report in my new “Matter” column in the New York Timesmy new “Matter” column in the New York Times, scientists have now reconstructed the genome of a Neanderthal with exquisite accuracy. Their genome sequence is as good as what you’d get if you had your own genome sequenced with the finest equipment available today. And yet the DNA comes from a fossil that’s approximately 130,000 years old.

You can read more about this remarkable feat–and what it implies–in my column. But there’s something more that I didn’t have room to discuss that I found really intriguing. Here’s the tree of human evolution that scientists have generated from the Neanderthal genome in comparison with other human DNA:

View Images
Nature

Now zoom out to the tree of all living things*:

View Images
Brown, Nature Reviews Genetics http://www.nature.com/nrg/journal/v4/n2/abs/nrg1000.html

Evolution is a mixture of flow–the cascade of genes from parents to offspring, and the criss-cross movement between populations and species. It has made us who were are, over just the past 60,000 years and over the past four billion.

[Note: The image at the top of this post comes from the Neanderthal Museum in Germany. I have never been there, but I can only guess that it’s fantastic.]

[*This tree is somewhat out of date. Eukaryotes now look to be just one branch of the Archaea, for example, rather than a third domain. But the criss-crossing remains.]