Ancient Genomes: Neanderthal

So, yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. Lots of festivities and NPR stories surrounding that day including a few announcements like UCSC announcing their v200th browser code a day early so as to coincide (they couldn’t resist the coincidence :)). Another announcement that was apropos was the announcement that researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have finished the draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome. Since only about 63% of the genome is actually covered (3.7 billion bps covered of the 3.2 billion bp genome, with duplications), when one announces a “draft” can be a bit arbitrary, so the 200th anniversary of the of the man who wrote “The Descent of Man, and selection in relation to Sex” is as good a time as any. And we are learning a few things like, Neanderthal’s might have had the physical ability for language, but couldn’t stand milk as adults (didn’t agree with their digestion). It is expected a draft and research will be published at the end of this year. We’ll report on that of course, and link to any browsers they might be setting up :D. Ancient genomes are teaching us some things.

Speaking of which, the Exploratorium, an excellent science museum in my fair city, has a great exhibit (on site and online) on the ‘how we know things’ and how science works. This exhibit is specifically on the origins of humans and Neanderthal DNA and the research at Max Planck figures prominently.