Human and Neanderthal Genes ‘Incredibly Similar’

BY Jason M. Breslow  May 7, 2010 at 3:46 PM EDT

Modern humans and Neanderthals are more closely connected in the gene pool than expected, according to new research.

The results, published in the journal Science on Friday, show that Neanderthals and humans are “incredibly similar” when comparing proteins encoded by the genes of each, said Gregory Hannon, one of the authors from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in a statement.

“The news, so far, is not about how we differ from Neanderthals, but how we are so nearly identical.”

Neanderthals are considered the closest relatives of humans and inhabited Europe and western Asia for more than 200,000 years until disappearing roughly 28,000 years ago, according to Scientific American.

The study team was working with highly contaminated Neanderthal DNA found in Spain, but was able to amplify and sequence portions of the DNA that code for proteins.

Through the process, they sequenced about 14,000 key protein-coding positions and found 88 changes in Neanderthals protein sequences compared with the modern human, occurring in a total of 83 proteins.

The 14,000 genome positions where chosen because they are the known set of differences between modern humans and chimpanzees.

To read more about recent human ancestry discoveries, check out a recent post on a newly found unknown human species and watch a video on a recent exhibit that explores human origins.