Homo neanderthalensis is the first extinct human species to have its DNA decoded. Scientists mapped the Neanderthal genome from fragments of DNA taken from three Neanderthal fossil bones, each from different individuals. The fossils come from Vindija Cave, Croatia, and are around 44,000 years old. We can now compare the Neanderthal DNA with the genome of living humans to try to figure out how the modern human species (Homo sapiens) is genetically unique.
The research shows that many living European and Asian people have a small number of Neanderthal genes—about 1% to 4% of the genome. None have been found so far in a small sample of living Africans. As the earliest populations of Homo sapiens spread from Africa to Asia and Europe around 60,000 years ago, they met and rarely interbred with Neanderthal groups. Homo sapiens populations that stayed in Africa would never have met Neanderthals.
The findings were announced May 6, 2010, ushering in an exciting new era of human origins research. Find out more at: