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The great-great-grandson of a Neanderthal.

The DNA analysis conducted on the remains of a Homo sapiens 40,000 years ago indicate that he had a Neanderthal among his ancestors, and sheds new light on the meetings between our species and the ancient “cousins”.

Modern humans and Homo neanderthalensis (pictured, the reconstruction of a woman) have lived together in Europe and are coupled together. A modern human being, who lived in what is now Romania between 37,000 and 42,000 years ago, Neanderthals had at least one among his ancestors. To be precise, it was his great-grandfather, as we go back in time four generations. At least five years scientists know that human beings have in their blood, or better, in the DNA, trace of Neanderthal man. Yet so far it has been quite complicated to determine when (and where) our ancestors mated with their cousins now extinct. A new discovery, just published in the journal Nature, tells the modern human history with the greatest amount of Neanderthal DNA ever found so far. The find, named Oase 1, is nothing more than the jaw of a male individual.

From the time it was discovered, in 2002, his form has suggested to the scientists that had belonged to a hybrid between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. Yet those assumptions have remained controversial for years, until the analyzes have managed to dispel any doubt. One of the things that leave you amazed at the skill of genomics techniques that enabled the scientists to extract genetic information from DNA samples so small. The genome sequenced by the sample was incomplete, but it was enough to allow the researchers to conclude that 6-9% of the genome of Oase 1 has Neandertal origin. Nowadays us remains at most 4% and it is a more significant difference than it might seem. They found several – and huge – pieces of chromosomes that appear to be pure Neanderthal origin. This means that it came from a relatively recent ancestor, because it had not yet been fragmented by the mixing that occurs in each generation, when the parental chromosomes fit together. At the same time, the sequences extracted from the bone of the Neanderthal genome shows that Oase 1 is not related to modern humans: his lineage, at some point, it stopped. These analyzes represent a tour de force in the field of biotechnology, and leading paleoanthropologists even closer to answer the question: what did extinguish Neanderthals, and when? Last year the genomic analysis of an old thigh bone of 45,000 years have suggested that modern humans and Neanderthals mated, between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, in what is modern Siberia.

A number apparently very imprecise: it had jumped to conclusions too soon. The real turning point in this discovery is that we can say that this particular person had a great-great-grandfather Neanderthal. Which helps us to establish a genealogical history about the discovery. If scientists manage to determine when these crossings have occurred in other parts of Europe and the Middle East, they will be able to establish in detail how quickly modern humans have spread in these regions and how long you have been in contact with Neanderthals. They might even be able to tell us when they disappeared those who are our closest relatives.



To open the video click on the image, good view from your Alessandro Brizzi.