Pharyngula

Neandertal!

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You don’t have to tell me, I know I’m late to the party: the news about the draft Neandertal genome sequence was announced last week, and here I am getting around to it just now. In my defense, I did hastily rewrite one of my presentation to include a long section on the new genome information, so at least I was talking about it to a few people. Besides, there is coverage from a genuine expert on Neandertals, John Hawks, and of course Carl Zimmer wrote an excellent summary. All I’m going to do now is fuss over a few things on the edge that interested me.

This was an impressive technical feat. The DNA was extracted from a few bone fragments, and it was grossly degraded: the average size of a piece of DNA was less than 200 base pairs, much of that was chemically degraded, and 95-99% of the DNA extracted was from bacteria, not Neandertal. An immense amount of work was required to filter noise from the signal, to reconstruct and reassemble, and to avoid contamination from modern human DNA. These poor Neandertals had died, had rotted thoroughly, and the bacteria had worked their way into almost every crevice of the bone to chew up the remains. All that was left were a few dead cells in isolated lacunae of the bone; their DNA had been chopped up by their own enzymes, and death and chemistry had come to slowly break them down further.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the draft genome of Homo erectus. Time is unkind.

We have to appreciate the age of these people, too. The oldest Neandertal fossils are approximately 400,000 years old, and the species went extinct about 30,000 years ago. That’s a good run; as measured by species longevity, Homo sapiens neandertalensis is more successful than Homo sapiens sapiens. We’re going to have to hang in there for another 200,000 years to top them.

The samples taken were from bones found in a cave in Vindija, Croatia. Full sequences were derived from these three individuals, and in addition, some partial sequences were taken from other specimens, including the original type specimen found in the Neander Valley in 1856.

i-23e0eb7849e62ad0a9dbe3ae2a2a58ea-neander_source.jpeg
Samples and sites from which DNA was retrieved. (A) The three bones from Vindija from which Neandertal DNA was sequenced. (B) Map showing the four archaeological sites from which bones were used and their approximate dates (years B.P.).

The three bones used for sequencing were directly dated to 38.1, 44.5, and 44.5 thousand years ago, which puts them on the near end of the Neandertal timeline, and after the likely time of contact between modern humans and Neandertals, which probably occurred about 80,000 years ago, in the Middle East.

Just for reference: these samples are 6-7 times older than the entire earth, as dated by young earth creationists. The span of time just between the youngest and oldest bones used is more than six thousand years old, again, about the same length of time as the YEC universe. Imagine that: we see these bone fragments now as part of a jumble of debris from one site, but they represent differences as great as those between a modern American and an ancient Sumerian. I repeat once again: the religious imagination is paltry and petty compared to the awesome reality.

A significant revelation from this work is the discovery of the signature of interbreeding between modern humans and Neandertals. When those humans first wandered out of the homeland of Africa into the Middle East, they encountered Neandertals already occupying the land…people they would eventually displace, but at least early on there was some sexual activity going on between the two groups, and a small number of human-Neandertal hybrids would have been incorporated into the expanding human population—at least, in that subset that was leaving Africa. Modern European, Asian, and South Pacific populations now contain 1-4% Neandertal DNA. This is really cool; I’m proud to think that I had as a many-times-great grandparent a muscular, beetle-browed big game hunter who trod Ice Age Europe, bringing down mighty mammoths with his spears.

However, it is a small contribution from the Neandertals to our lineage, and it’s not likely that these particular Neandertal genes made a particularly dramatic effect on our ancestors. They didn’t exactly sweep rapidly and decisively through the population; it’s most likely that they are neutral hitch-hikers that surfed the wave of human expansion. Any early matings between an expanding human subpopulation and a receding Neandertal population would have left a few traces in our gene pool that would have been passively hauled up into higher numbers by time and the mere growth of human populations. In a complementary fashion, any human genes injected into the Neandertal pool would have been placed into the bleeding edge of a receding population, and would not have persevered. No uniquely human genes were found in the Neandertals examined, but we can’t judge the preferred direction of the sexual exchanges in these encounters, though, because any hybrids in Neandertal tribes were facing early doom, while hybrids in human tribes were in for a long ride.

Here’s the interesting part of these gene exchanges, though. We can now estimate the ancestral gene sequence, that is, the sequences of genes in the last common ancestor of humans and Neandertals, and we can ask if there are any ‘primitive’ genes that have been completely replaced in modern human populations by a different variant, but Neandertal still retained the ancestral pattern (see the red star in the diagram below). These genes could be a hint to what innovations made us uniquely human and different from Neandertals.

i-eacb5bc2f9cc81fa2e29370680c5e1c5-neander_sweep.jpeg
Selective sweep screen. Schematic illustration of the rationale for the selective sweep screen. For many regions of the genome, the variation within current humans 0 is old enough to include Neandertals (left). Thus, for SNPs in present-day humans, Neandertals often carry the derived -1 allele (blue). However, in genomic regions where an advantageous mutation arises (right, red star) and sweeps to high frequency or fixation in present-day humans, Neandertals will be devoid of derived alleles.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that there aren’t very many of them: a grand total of 78 genes were identified that have a novel form and that have been fixed in the modern human population. That’s not very many, so if you’re an exceptionalist looking for justification of your superiority to our ancestors, you haven’t got much to go on. The good news, though, is that there are only 78 genes! This is a manageable number, and represent some useful hints to genes that would be worth studying in more detail.

One other qualification, though: these are 78 genes that have changes in their coding sequence. There are also several hundred other non-coding, presumably regulatory, sequences that are unique to humans and are fixed throughout our population. To the evo-devo mind, these might actually be the more interesting changes, eventually…but right now, there are some tantalizing prospects in the coding genes to look at.

Some of the genes with novel sequences in humans are DYRK1A, a gene that is present in three copies in Down syndrome individuals and is suspected of playing a role in their mental deficits; NRG3, a gene associated with schizophrenia, and CADPS2 and AUTS2, two genes associated with autism. These are exciting prospects for further study because they have alleles unique and universal to humans and not Neandertals, and also affect the functioning of the brain. However, let’s not get confused about what that means for Neandertals. These are genes that, when broken or modified in modern humans, have consequences on the brain. Neandertals had these same genes, but different forms or alleles of them, which are also different from the mutant forms that cause problems in modern humans. Neandertals did not necessarily have autism, schizophrenia, or the minds of people with Down syndrome! The diseases are just indications that these genes are involved in the nervous system, and the differences in the Neandertal forms almost certainly caused much more subtle effects.

Another gene that has some provocative potential is RUNX2. That’s short for Runt-related transcription factor 2, which should make all the developmental biologists sit up and pay attention. It’s a transcription factor, so it’s a regulator of many other genes, and it’s related to Runt, a well known gene in flies that is important in segmentation. In humans, RUNX2 is a regulator of bone growth, and is a master control switch for patterning bone. In modern humans, defects in this gene lead to a syndrome called cleidocranial dysplasia, in which bones of the skull fuse late, leading to anomalies in the shape of the head, and also causes characteristic defects in the shape of the collar bones and shoulder articulations. These, again, are places where Neandertal and modern humans differ significantly in morphology (and again, Neandertals did not have cleidocranial dysplasia — they had forms of the RUNX2 gene that would have contributed to the specific arrangements of their healthy, normal anatomy).

These are tantalizing hints to how human/Neandertal differences could have arisen—by small changes in a few genes that would have had a fairly extensive scope of effect. Don’t view the many subtle differences between the two as each a consequence of a specific genetic change; a variation in a gene like RUNX2 can lead to coordinated, integrated changes to multiple aspects of the phenotype, in this case, affecting the shape of the skull, the chest, and the shoulders.

This is a marvelous insight into our history, and represents some powerful knowledge we can bring to bear on our understanding of human evolution. The only frustrating thing is that this amazing work has been done in a species on which we can’t, for ethical reasons, do the obvious experiments of creating artificial revertants of sets of genes to the ancestral state — we don’t get to resurrect a Neandertal. With the tools that Pääbo and colleagues have developed, though, perhaps we can start considering some paleogenomics projects to get not just the genomic sequences of modern forms, but of their ancestors as well. I’d like to see the genomic differences between elephants and mastodons, and tigers and sabre-toothed cats…and maybe someday we can think about rebuilding a few extinct species.


Green RE, Krause J, Briggs AW, Maricic T, Stenzel U, Kircher M, Patterson N, Li H, Zhai W, Fritz MH, Hansen NF, Durand EY, Malaspinas AS, Jensen JD, Marques-Bonet T, Alkan C, Prüfer K, Meyer M, Burbano HA, Good JM, Schultz R, Aximu-Petri A, Butthof A, Höber B, Höffner B, Siegemund M, Weihmann A, Nusbaum C, Lander ES, Russ C, Novod N, Affourtit J, Egholm M, Verna C, Rudan P, Brajkovic D, Kucan Z, Gusic I, Doronichev VB, Golovanova LV, Lalueza-Fox C, de la Rasilla M, Fortea J, Rosas A, Schmitz RW, Johnson PL, Eichler EE, Falush D, Birney E, Mullikin JC, Slatkin M, Nielsen R, Kelso J, Lachmann M, Reich D, Pääbo S. (2010) A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome. Science 328(5979):710-22.

Comments

  1. #1 Crommunist
    May 12, 2010

    these samples are 6-7 times older than the entire earth, as dated by young earth creationists

    Um, helloooo, you forgot about FLOODS. Everyone knows that floods change the radio-isotopes in organic matter. Just look at the areas around the Mississippi (note: please don’t look at radioisotopes in the areas around the Mississippi). Gosh, PZ, I thought you were supposed to be some kind of scientist.

  2. #2 Glen Davidson
    May 12, 2010

    And see, the similarities and differences between Neandertals and ourselves are due to normal processes of reproduction, mutation, and selection.

    Whereas teh similarities and differences between chimps and ourselves are due to magic, except where they aren’t.

    And that’s ID’s full meaning.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  3. #3 martha
    May 12, 2010

    So do the biblicists believe that the Neanderthal was on the ark? Or do they just not believe in the Neanderthal?

  4. #4 Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou
    May 12, 2010

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for the draft genome of Homo erectus. Time is unkind.

    *exhales and returns to normal coloration.

  5. #5 phoenixwoman
    May 12, 2010

    Is there any chance they’ll be able to get anything useful out of the Thylacoleo skeletons pulled out of the sinkhole caverns under the Nullarbor Plain? At least one of those buggers turned out to be 500,000 years old.

  6. #6 Abdul Alhazred
    May 12, 2010

    What species is just before the branch point? H. erectus?

  7. #7 phoenixwoman
    May 12, 2010

    Oh, and just because:

    Here’s a pretty raptor birdie!

  8. #8 Knockgoats
    May 12, 2010

    My guess is that RUNX2 is key: that the crucial differences between Neandertals and anatomical moderns were, in fact, anatomical: being more robust, they required more food, and for that reason, had to live in smaller groups at lower population densities. That would mean AMH populations could support more complex socio-technical systems (AMH do seem to have had more complex tools at least as far back as 80,000BP); and once these developed sufficiently, Neandertals greater strength would not have been a sufficient compensation for greater energy requirements.

  9. #9 Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou
    May 12, 2010

    What species is just before the branch point? H. erectus?

    Probably H. Ergaster.

  10. #10 jidashdee
    May 12, 2010

    So, might these genes express themselves visibly in some folks?

    Inquiring minds with sagittal keel, occipital bun, Morton’s toe and pronounced bow ridges want to know.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, these mastodons aren’t going to hunt themselves.

  11. #11 Sven DiMilo
    May 12, 2010

    they required more food, and for that reason, had to live in smaller groups at lower population densities

    Doesn’t necessarily follow.

  12. #12 PeteGrimes
    May 12, 2010

    Rather than refer them casually as Neanderthals, it seems we need a new word. Maybe not ‘people’… but something more inclusive!

  13. #13 --PatF
    May 12, 2010

    I believe we still have some of the hybrids running around. Did you ever meet my cousin Ralphie?

  14. #14 SteveM
    May 12, 2010

    re 3:
    So do the biblicists believe that the Neanderthal was on the ark? Or do they just not believe in the Neanderthal?

    Neandertal must be the “male and female He created them” of chapter one, who are later the “daughters of men” that Adam and Eve’s children (“the sons of God”) bred with.

  15. #15 Bethistopheles
    May 12, 2010

    To answer the question about the opinions of YECs regarding Neanderthals, I can answer for what I’ve seen in certain family members– When asked this question a while back, I was told that Neanderthals are the same as us. They were humans. They weren’t different. We are the same. They only slightly look different. And so do Africans and Swedes. Neanderthals are the same as us because we didn’t evolve from no stinkin monkeez.

    Oh, and carbon dating is unreliable and Jesus rode on the backs of dinosaurs.

    Obviously.

  16. #16 iambilly
    May 12, 2010

    Bethistopheles:

    Ah, the old, “He was a Russian Soldier who died in the cave during the Napoleonic Wars” argument.

    [Strokes chin a la charicature of Freud.]

    Velly intellestink! And how doss t’at make you feel?

  17. #17 legistech
    May 12, 2010

    Any bets for how long it is before these finding are used by some to justify racism?

  18. #18 Westcoaster
    May 12, 2010

    About the last common ancestor, please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t both Neanderthals and ourselves subspecies of Homo sapiens? Ie, Homo sapiens neandertalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens. Wouldn’t that mean that the last common ancestor was a member of Homo sapiens?

  19. #19 bjstucker
    May 12, 2010

    Modern humans getting funky with neandertals- we now have a better idea when beer was first brewed…

  20. #20 raven
    May 12, 2010

    AIG:

    Neanderthal fossils are from individuals who have been dead for hundreds to thousands of years.

    The creationists haven’t got their lies straight yet. Although they never do get them straight. Ken Ham thinks the DNA sources are from recently dead people. Someone else thought they could be the “Nephilim”, giant “sons of gods” who mated with the daughters of men in Genesis. Whatever the hell all that means as, for god’s only book, the bible is remarkably obscure at times.

    raven crosspost from PT
    It is like they aren?t even trying anymore.

    Did Neanderthals die out before or after the flood? Were they at the Tower of Babel? Was Abraham a Neanderthal or any of the other biblical figures?

    Could the Philistine Goliath, reputed to be a large, sturdy warrior, be a Neanderthal?

    One of the pathetic oddities of AIG creationism, is that with a 6,000 year old earth, there never was a stone age. Cain and Abel, the second humans, were farmers and ranchers. Which of course doesn?t explain why the earth?s surface is covered everywhere with stone tools and stone age archaeological sites.

    There never were any ice ages either or if there were, they lasted a few months.

    I feel sorry for the children stuck in creationist lunacy. Science discovers new and wonderful things about the huge, old universe every day. The creationists ignore most of it and make up feeble lies about the rest. And this is never going to end unless they gain control of our society, kill the scientists, and burn the libraries.

  21. #21 eeanm
    May 12, 2010

    Maybe we’ll find H. Erectus frozen solid in a Tibetan glacier. I bet we could get some decent DNA from that.
    :)

    @Westcoaster: Wikipedia says both are correct, depending on who you talk to. Dawkins devotes a few pages in his most recent book to complain about how researchers of human evolution spend waaay too much time arguing on labels, which at the best of times are just simplifications.

    Regardless of which nomenclature you believe (inter-breeding supports the Homo sapiens neandertalensis I’d say) , the common ancestor between modern humans and neanderthals would be a proto-homo sapien.

  22. #22 iHunger
    May 12, 2010

    I can see the quote mining now…

    Atheist Blogger PZ Meyers* is “frustrated” that he “can’t…do the obvious experiments of creating [life and doesn't]…get to resurrect a Neandertal.”

    * my brain assumes they would spell his name that way.

  23. #23 Ben Goren
    May 12, 2010

    I’m surprised nobody has pointed it out, yet, but this should be a pretty personal and emphatic lesson that the concept of, “species,” is very vague and fuzzy.

    We are all of us cousins, even our feline overlords and squidly underlords. The only question is how many generations separate us.

    Cheers,

    b&


    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  24. #24 iambilly
    May 12, 2010

    I’ve been trying to remember how some of my religious friends back in high school explained ‘cave men’ (no way were they able to differentiate between Cro Magnon, Neandertal, or any other homo — they were all ‘cave men’). I seem to remember one kid (a preacher’s son (big surprise)) who explained to our biology teacher (who retired at the end of that particular year) that cave men are evidence of devolution caused by the willful disobedience of Eve.

    His version was that god(s) created the perfect humans and then when Eve screwed us all (metaphorically, not literally), errors began to creep into the creation leading to extinction and devolved almost-human creatures such as cave men, chimps, gorillas and black people (we were down south of the Mason Dixon line, and this was way back in the early 80s, and there were no African-American families at this lily-white public school, so that raised no eyebrows). Apparently, god(s) would save us all (or (at least) those worth saving because they believed) before the devolution turned us all into animals.

    I think he actually believed it.

    He later went to Liberty Baptist for his BA and MA. In what, I don’t know.

  25. #25 Carlie
    May 12, 2010

    So do the biblicists believe that the Neanderthal was on the ark? Or do they just not believe in the Neanderthal?

    Ahem. I believe the hypothesis involves something about pygmies + dwarves.

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    May 12, 2010

    Actually, according to the Hamites, there was no speciation in the human family tree…errm, stick. No branches.

    All those so-called hominids are branches of the ape tree, which was not created in god’s image, and therefore more deviation was tolerated.

  27. #27 bbgunn071679
    May 12, 2010

    Interestingly, my maternal and paternal heritage emanated squarely from the regions of Croatia, Serbia, Austria and Slovenia. I’d say, based on the facial hair gracing both the males and females of my family, we may be closer to 4% of shared Neadertal DNA.

  28. #28 Pradeep
    May 12, 2010

    PZ, thanks for the excellent run-down. Nice to get some science education in the process.

  29. #29 ThirdMonkey
    May 12, 2010

    Bah! Neanderthals are obviously decendents of Ham. And there was no “Ice Age” (except as a cartoon movie) and any evidence to the contrary was placed there by Satan (the original one, not Obama) to trick you away from God. Duh!

    Anyway… This is an amazing finding. Thanks for going over some of the details, PZ!

  30. #30 mothra
    May 12, 2010

    …and maybe someday we can think about rebuilding a few extinct species.

    Its 2250, Elroy in class at Little Dipper Grade School is building his first Terror bird. He is momentarily taken aback at the directions “Some assembly required.” No one realizes that he will master the technique and later be known throught time and space as Dr. Davros.

  31. #31 SteveM
    May 12, 2010

    re 23:
    I?m surprised nobody has pointed it out, yet, but this should be a pretty personal and emphatic lesson that the concept of, ?species,? is very vague and fuzzy.

    Article in the latest issue of Discover magazine about “species” being a very fuzzy concept.

  32. #32 James F
    May 12, 2010

    …and maybe someday we can think about rebuilding a few extinct species.

    Uh, oh.

  33. #33 elgarak
    May 12, 2010

    PZ, I’m a little disappointed that you missspelled “Neanderthal” as “Neandertal” (without the “H”).

    Now, in German both words (“Tal” and “Thal”) are pronounced the same and have the same meaning (“valley”); “Thal” is the older spelling common during the first discovery in the 19th century. The newer spelling “Tal” was made ‘official’ in 1901, and in fact the region near Dsseldorf actually changed its spelling to “Neandertal” (which is actually rare — there are many location names in Germany that continue to use older, historically grown, spelling). But the scientific name of the species remained being spelled with an “H”.

    Then again, maybe I’m overly picky since I grew up near the area.

  34. #34 mothra
    May 12, 2010

    Seriously though, recreating many recently extinct species presents us with the problem of where to release them as their habitat has long since been destroyed. Is there a place for the Atlantic gray whale, Steller’s sea cow or the Great Auk, nope. Could present day Siberia or Alaska support small populations of Woolly mammoths, not likely.

    On more philosophical grounds, if we are able to resurrect recently extinct species, this will give license for increased environmental destruction and game ‘preserves” will have yet another meaning.

  35. #35 PZ Myers
    May 12, 2010

    The paper uses the modern Neandertal spelling. The people who sequence the genome should get the privilege of fixing the name.

    In related news, the only thing keeping Francis Collins from renaming Homo sapiens to Jesus christianus is Craig Venter’s wrath.

  36. #36 chaseacross
    May 12, 2010

    Pesky ethics. If I had a womb, I’d definitely be up for birthing a neanderthal. If a woman with NARP or the Tay Sachs gene can voluntarily concieve offspring, why can’t I use my hypothetical womb for science?

  37. #37 PZ Myers
    May 12, 2010

    Don’t confuse me with an ecologist. I wouldn’t want to resurrect extinct species so I can release them into the wild — I’d want them in the lab so I can take them apart.

  38. #38 iambilly
    May 12, 2010

    Mothra:

    We could resurrect the Wooly Mammoth and breed them as prey for the Polar Bear.

  39. #39 Deadbunnygangsta
    May 12, 2010

    Ian Tattersall is rolling over in his grave!

    (OK, so he is not “Technically” dead, but after this, who knows?)

  40. #40 Shadow
    May 12, 2010

    iambilly @#38:

    Then they’d (Palin-drones) just hunt both species from helicopters.

  41. #41 Birger Johansson
    May 12, 2010

    Regarding the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals: I read an article in Science a few weeks ago that culture (technology) is limited by the size of populations. For instance, the original Tasmanians lost the ability to make canoes after Tasmania was isolated from the rest of Australia by sea level rise.
    Some argue that Neanderthals were on the same cognitive level as H. Sapiens Sapiens but the small groups prevented the expansion of culture to the level we see in artefacts left by H. Sapiens Sapiens during the last 40 000 years.

    (OT) Re. glioblastoma and Dann Siems: Check this link about recent work at the University of Alberta -Physorg.com published it a few hours ago:
    (NB Michelakis is a bona fide scientist, not a snake oil salesman)
    “DCA research on brain cancer” http://www.physorg.com/news192882421.html

    PS. Since paleogenetic pioneer Svante Pbo -whose team pulled off this feat- originally came from Sweden, it is possible that some of your Minnesotan neighbours are related to him!

  42. #42 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    May 12, 2010

    @ #38 & #40:
    They’d all just end up in some Tokyo restaurant.

  43. #43 irenedelse
    May 12, 2010

    (Deep, ominous voice:)

    And with this sequencing of the Neandertal genome, Reality As We Know It (TM) inched just a little bit further in the direction of… the Nextiverse.

    And Jasper Fforde has to be anticipating future fan questions with mixed feelings indeed.

  44. #44 MadScientist
    May 12, 2010

    Shouldn’t that be Homo Sapiens sapiens and Homo Sapiens neandertalis?

    Ken Ham says that should be 4,000 years ago, not 400,000 (after all, everyone known Noah the Neanderthal), and 3,000 years ago, not 300,000. Ham’s grandaddy was mounting the neanderthals around the time he was mounting the dinosaurs.

  45. #45 Technopaladin
    May 12, 2010

    PZ everyone knows that recreating them in the lab would eventually end in an escape and action filled weeks were either they destroy us or some handsome/beautiful hero saves us by killing them with explosives, Electricity, Liquid Nitrogen, and/or massive firearms(swords would just be dumb).

  46. #46 Birger Johansson
    May 12, 2010

    @ 36: I see no ethical problems -see my post at 41……..
    @ 30: In his satirical novels, Jasper Fforde desribes a near-future England where growing your pets with DNA kits including DNA of extinct animals has become a respected hobby.

    The protagonist has the pet dodo Pickwick, who, due to bugs in the first generation of DNA kits, lack wings alltogether. The protagonist turns down several monetary offers to sell Pickwick to collectors, since the few remaining “flawed” dodos have become more valuable than the original, “proper” dodo. This kind of weirdness seems perfectly credible!

    BTW, considering the massive build of Neanderthals, sports teams may one day fund illegal germ cell lines to get players able to outperform “standard” players. :-)

  47. #47 iambilly
    May 12, 2010

    Shadow:

    Bad pun. No donut.

  48. #48 sillysaur
    May 12, 2010

    This is insanely cool. On multiple levels.

    However, let me speak for the Creationist whackaloon who will provide “balance” to the science in news stories:

    “I DI’N’T EVOLVE FROM NO NEE-ANN-DER-TALL!”

  49. #49 Blind Squirrel FCD
    May 12, 2010

    What species is just before the branch point? H. erectus?

    Where does Homo heidelbergensis fit in?

    BS

  50. #50 Birger Johansson
    May 12, 2010

    Irenedelse @ 43: Oops, we both recalled Jasper Fforde at the exact same time! The English crank who proposed “morphic resonance” would be exited!

  51. #51 David Marjanovi?
    May 12, 2010

    I’m not that pessimistic about H. erectus. Some from Java are only 18,000 years old, aren’t they.

    Also “Homo” floresiensis.

    Is there any chance they’ll be able to get anything useful out of the Thylacoleo skeletons pulled out of the sinkhole caverns under the Nullarbor Plain? At least one of those buggers turned out to be 500,000 years old.

    That’s about 5 times too much, but aren’t there some that are only 46,000 years old?

    Inquiring minds with sagittal keel

    :-o

    There are people with a sagittal keel out there!?!?!

    aren’t both Neanderthals and ourselves subspecies of Homo sapiens?

    That’s not a scientific question, it’s a nomenclatural question: how, if at all do you define “species” and “subspecies”?

    There are, as of February 2008, no less than 147 different definitions of “species” out there. They have nothing in common except the word “species”; depending on which you like best, there are from 101 to 249 endemic bird species in Mexico.

    Someone else thought they could be the “Nephilim”, giant “sons of gods” who mated with the daughters of men in Genesis.

    Except they were shorter on average than contemporary or extant AMHs.

    I’d say, based on the facial hair gracing both the males and females of my family, we may be closer to 4% of shared Neadertal DNA.

    Do keep in mind that we have no idea how hairy any Neandertalers were. Perhaps they were less hairy than us (and we’re the ones who are closer to the ancestral state). Perhaps more. Perhaps they exhibited the same variation as us.

    Maybe the genome project will tell us about a few individuals, but that’s it so far…

    “Ice Age” (except as a cartoon movie)

    Two cartoon movies. :-)

    Satan (the original one, not Obama)

    ROTFL!

    PZ, I’m a little disappointed that you missspelled [sic! :- ] “Neanderthal” as “Neandertal” (without the “H”).

    I’m glad he did, for the same reasons you give. That h was just silly, it has nothing to do with pronunciation or etymology; perhaps it was an attempt to make German look more like Greek. (That would fit the fact that, IIRC, it wasn’t used in the Middle Ages.)

    In related news, the only thing keeping Francis Collins from renaming Homo sapiens to Jesus christianus is Craig Venter’s wrath.

    LOL!

    (There’s also the ICZN, though. Read their big-O Opinions for tone ? a bit like papal bulls, only without the flourish.)

    We could resurrect the Wooly Mammoth and breed them as prey for the Polar Bear.

    Bears would rather starve than cooperate, and they’d have to cooperate to bring down prey of that size.

  52. #52 Birger Johansson
    May 12, 2010

    “Bears would rather starve than cooperate, and they’d have to cooperate to bring down prey of that size.”
    But sabre-toothed cats need mammoth juveniles for food!

  53. #53 David Marjanovi?
    May 12, 2010

    Shouldn’t that be Homo Sapiens sapiens and Homo Sapiens neandertalis?

    If so, then Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. The ICZN has big-A Articles on where to put capital letters and where not to put them, the spelling is fixed, and there’s a big-R Recommendation about the italics… and the Recommendations are meant to be followed. :-)

  54. #54 Birger Johansson
    May 12, 2010

    Dodos revisited (thaks, irenedelse) http://www.jasperfforde.com/games/fun.html

  55. #55 https://me.yahoo.com/a/SaqGVG0xvJEQVwURVamS3DTCdvov0BLhXK1jOsYPPJQ-#b4893
    May 12, 2010

    I repeat once again: the religious imagination is paltry and petty compared to the awesome reality.

    But, PZ, the Big Sky Wizard is an Awesome Wizard!!!1!

    HOW can you THINK otherwise?!!!1

    MikeM

  56. #56 Cuttlefish, OM
    May 12, 2010

    It does not shock me, not at all
    To find I’m part Neandertal.
    And looking at you, I can tell
    The same holds true for you as well

    It’s just a gene, or three or four,
    Though some may have a couple more–
    I do suspect my girlfriend’s cousin
    Has perhaps a couple dozen.

  57. #57 noodlemaz.wordpress.com
    May 12, 2010

    Really fascinating, thanks.
    I work on Down’s Syndrome (in a roundabout cancer-related sort of way) so DYRK1A and RUNX1 certainly interesting :D

  58. #58 Bill Door
    May 12, 2010

    @17
    There was a racist troll on 4chan’s /sci/ board 2 days ago about this.

  59. #59 sinz54
    May 12, 2010

    Mothra: “Seriously though, recreating many recently extinct species presents us with the problem of where to release them as their habitat has long since been destroyed.”

    No problem.

    The Bronx Zoo.
    Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus.
    Etc.

  60. #60 Randomfactor
    May 12, 2010

    So do the biblicists believe that the Neanderthal was on the ark? Or do they just not believe in the Neanderthal?

    Check the chart PZ included. Not only were there Neandert(h)als in Biblical times, some of them were Jewish!

  61. #61 SteveM
    May 12, 2010

    There was a racist troll on 4chan’s /sci/ board 2 days ago about this.

    A racist troll on 4chan? Inconceivable!

  62. #62 amphiox
    May 12, 2010

    My understanding would be that H. heidelbergensis is the common ancestor of H. sapiens and H. neandertalis.

    Of course, it depends on who you ask. Sometimes it seems as if everyone and their mother in the field who finds a bone makes up a new species name for the bone.

    Neandertals were big and powerful and muscular, but they were short – an adaption to cold climate, or so I hear, about 5′ 2-3″. Heidelbergs (or whatever you choose to call the African part of that population) on the other hand were apparently big and muscular and tall – there was that one fossil of a young teenage boy who was already 6′ plus and not yet full grown.

    Which gives us:

    Heidelbergs = giants

    Hobbits = PYGMIES

    Neandertals = DWARFS

    AHA!

  63. #63 amphiox
    May 12, 2010

    The bog conditions wherein they found the H. floresiensis has got to be a killer for DNA, so I’m not too hopeful on that front.

    But if we find other specimens. . . . (that would be so cool for so many other reasons, too)

  64. #64 amphiox
    May 12, 2010

    PZ everyone knows that recreating them in the lab would eventually end in an escape and action filled weeks were either they destroy us or some handsome/beautiful hero saves us by killing them with explosives, Electricity, Liquid Nitrogen, and/or massive firearms(swords would just be dumb).

    And then we (H. sapiens) would get the honor of being the only species to have driven their closest evolutionary kin to extinction, not once, but twice.

    Ah, what a piece of work is man!

  65. #65 Carlie
    May 12, 2010

    In related news, the only thing keeping Francis Collins from renaming Homo sapiens to Jesus christianus is Craig Venter’s wrath.

    Given that he sequenced his own first, I imagine he’d try to rename it Homo venteri. :)

    Not only were there Neandert(h)als in Biblical times, some of them were Jewish!

    So were they circ.. never mind.

  66. #66 gmarp84
    May 12, 2010

    You know back then, he was all, “Noone’s ever gonna know I banged that ugly chick…” Little did he know 80,000 years later that We ALL Know.

  67. #67 jemand
    May 12, 2010

    This was an extraordinary feat… are we absolutely certain no cross contamination between the samples and modern human DNA from the researchers occurred?

    I believe most (all?) of the researchers were of non-African descent, so if there *was* any cross contamination it would be consistent with the finding of shared DNA with non-African human populations.

    I wish this could be repeated by African researchers, and if the exact same trend is found in labs abounding in modern human detritus rich in African alleles, I’d be more inclined to trust it.

  68. #68 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkL6rop7ope6a9ysVWsdSU1FNTAQmmW9gw
    May 12, 2010

    Neanderthals didn’t die off any 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. Why, there’s a shroud imprinted with the image of one (a tall one admittedly) that dates from the 12th century.

  69. #69 grolby
    May 12, 2010

    Svante Paabo happened to speak at my University (Vanderbilt) on the very day that this study was released. It was, as you might expect, very exciting. It was a very pleasant surprise.

    It should also come as no surprise that Paabo really knows how to deliver a talk using PowerPoint. All figures, no text bullets. Awesome.

  70. #70 Caine, Fleur du mal
    May 12, 2010

    This is so amazing, truly wonderful. It’s fun that I’m a good part Croation too.

  71. #71 Guerra
    May 12, 2010

    Hail Satan!

  72. #72 Pacal
    May 12, 2010

    Well, well!! So some Neanderthal DNA slipped into the ancestry of the Human race. It isn’t a huge number 1-4% but the fact that it exists at all is signifigant.

    I clearly remember a lot of Scientists not so long ago being so certain that Neanderthals contributed NOTHING to Human ancestry. That Neanderthals were too different and they were completely replaced by modern humans. That Neanderthals and modern Humans had nothing to do with each other and that modern Humans were radically different from Neanderthals. All that stuff about Neanderthals being unable to speak and being a different species etc, so that Humans and Neanderthals could not even breed together. Well it appears that that is bogus or at least needs to be modified.

    I frankly suspect that a lot of what happened was the Neanderthals being overwhelmed by a invasion of more technically advanced and numerous Modern Humans. We’ve seen this senario repeatidly in Human history. The old story of invaders, with a vastly superior technology in large numbers invading a area with a much smaller, scattered native population. The native population is shattered and overwhelmed and the surviving natives largely absorbed into the settler population.

    I suspect that the Neanderthals were probably scattered in small groups and made up a fairly small scattered population. The invading modern Humans were probably, with their very large technical edge, in vastly greater numbers. It is possible that they broughht diseases that the Neanderthals were vunerable too. THe result was the already small Neanderthal population drasticaly declined and the rements were absorbed. One shoud also take into account the possibility of the effects of cultural shock and killings on the Neanderthals and their role in the decline and disapearance of the Neanderthals.

    I wonder if there is anyway to find out if there are any variations among modern day European populations in the amount of Neanderthal ancestry.

  73. #73 bedellcl
    May 12, 2010

    Thanks for signing my Get Well octopus, PZ!
    -pmomma

  74. #74 Guerra
    May 12, 2010

    I Want a Zergling!!!!!! Pretty please Pmomma

  75. #75 John Morales
    May 12, 2010

    PZ exhibits his Mad Scientist cred:

    I wouldn’t want to resurrect extinct species so I can release them into the wild — I’d want them in the lab so I can take them apart.

  76. #76 HenryS
    May 12, 2010

    killings on the Neanderthals and their role in the decline and disapearance of the Neanderthals.
    ********
    Possibly 15,000+ years border wars and competition for resources as Modern Humans moved East to West until the last Neanderthals died in Iberia.

  77. #77 https://me.yahoo.com/a/SaqGVG0xvJEQVwURVamS3DTCdvov0BLhXK1jOsYPPJQ-#b4893
    May 12, 2010

    I’ve pointed this out before, but it bears repeating. A few years ago, National Geographic had a “picture” of a Neandertal on the cover of the magazine, and I swear, I look like I could be her brother. I look more like her than I do my actual sisters. I absolutely assure you, I am not making this up.

    So then I think, maybe some of us are more Neandertal than others. But then, I doubt my wife and I would have kids if that was true.

    OTOH, I find my wife extra-hot, which seems like it’d be a Neandertal trait.

    The jury is still out.

    MikeM

    (By the way, PZ, thanks for this post.)

  78. #78 RobertL
    May 12, 2010

    Of course Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon could interbreed.

    Hasn’t anyone read the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series?

  79. #79 MolBio
    May 13, 2010

    Be interesting to know if it added resistance traits to some populations. Disease implications would be fun to model.

  80. #80 Patrick
    May 13, 2010

    i know it is odd but i want them to compare platypus to fossilized remains of platypii
    just cuz i want to see the diff

  81. #81 Jadehawk, OM
    May 13, 2010
    “Ice Age” (except as a cartoon movie)

    Two cartoon movies. :-)

    three cartoon movies.

  82. #82 Jadehawk, OM
    May 13, 2010

    Hasn’t anyone read the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series?

    i read certain scenes from that aloud in art class when the teacher wasn’t in the classroom, and passed the books (with said relevant scenes highlighted) around at other times. Much immature giggling was to be had.

  83. #83 josip
    May 13, 2010

    Great article, but it has an error: There is no such place or city named Vindija :) The name of that cave is Vindija and its near the city of Vara?din, Croatia.

    P.S. And some more interesting stuff: In the city of Krapina, some 100 km to the south, is the another archaeological find and the museum of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

  84. #84 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnmfT6aBFwl3MgiYcsQJa_mnknTQi96v7s
    May 13, 2010

    It would have been easier to take a cheek rub from Rush Limbaugh.

  85. #85 Knockgoats
    May 13, 2010

    Of course Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon could interbreed.

    Hasn’t anyone read the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series? – Robert R.

    But according to the infinitely superior Dance of the Tiger by Bjorn Kurten (a genuine paleontologist), hybrids were sterile! Evidently, not completely.

    Birger Johansson@43,
    Yes, that’s another part of my theory guess – nice to see the evidence in its favour mounting up! Stephen Oppenheimer in Out of Eden (US title The Real Eve) suggests that a technical innovation of the Middle Pleistocene (Mousterian stone-working), which precedes AMH by a couple of hundred thousand years, were a much bigger “leap” than anything subsequent, and so probably required fully human cognitive abilities.

  86. #86 palaeodave
    May 13, 2010

    About the spelling – they really should be saying Neanderthal rather than Neandertal but it doesn’t actually matter except for the species name, which is correctly H. neanderthalensis. They don’t actually refer to the species name (correctly or incorrectly spelt) anywhere in the paper, so they won’t incur the wrath of the ICZN. The people who sequence the genome should not get to name it – that would be ridiculous and destabilise nomenclature completely.

  87. #87 palaeodave
    May 13, 2010

    Oh and thanks for the summary. I don’t know much about genetics and that was a really useful insight into the implications of this work.

  88. #88 DLC
    May 13, 2010

    I feel rather sad for the residents of France’s Neander valley.

  89. #89 Anubis Bloodsin the third
    May 13, 2010

    #66

    You know back then, he was all, “Noone’s ever gonna know I banged that ugly chick…” Little did he know 80,000 years later that We ALL Know.

    Or alternatively…”Well he was kindda cute…bit of a caveman actually…hmm they sure know where the G-Spot is…typical male though woke up next morning and muttered summat about some Mastodon hunt with the boys that he could not miss…ain’t seen him since…!”

  90. #90 conelrad
    May 13, 2010

    Harold Klawans, who was a real neurologist who also wrote popular articles, suggested in one of his essays that babies which took after their Neandertal daddies in point of robustness would be likelier to kill their Cro-Magnon mommy during childbirth. Therefore, assuming that everybody mates with everybody, the Cro-Magnard genome would gradually become predominant even if no other trends were at play. FWIW.

  91. #91 David Marjanovi?
    May 13, 2010

    I suspect that the Neanderthals were probably scattered in small groups and made up a fairly small scattered population. The invading modern Humans were probably, with their very large technical edge, in vastly greater numbers. It is possible that they broughht diseases that the Neanderthals were vunerable too.

    And then there’s the Last Glacial Maximum, the beginning of which coincides with the disappearance of the Neandertalers and of the Gravettian-culture moderns alike! Unfortunately, there are far too few fossils to tell how good that correlation is, AFAIK.

    Possibly 15,000+ years border wars and competition for resources as Modern Humans moved East to West until the last Neanderthals died in Iberia.

    Except that some in Vindija are at most as old as the youngest Spanish ones.

    i want them to compare platypus to fossilized remains of platypii

    The bones, or the DNA?

    three cartoon movies.

    AAAAAARGH!!!

    Memory suppression: it works.

    France’s Neander valley

    France?

    typical male though woke up next morning and muttered summat about some Mastodon hunt with the boys that he could not miss…ain’t seen him since…!

    Mastodon? By then long extinct outside of the Americas (…yes, both of them).

  92. #92 iambilly
    May 13, 2010

    Bears would rather starve than cooperate. . . .

    Bears are neocons?

  93. #93 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    May 13, 2010

    You know, I used to have a t-shirt that said “Neanderthal is beautiful”. If you saw me wearing it, you’d understand.

  94. #94 octopode.myopenid.com
    May 13, 2010

    @iambilly #92

    Surely they’re libeartarians?

  95. #95 Anubis Bloodsin the third
    May 13, 2010

    Mastodon? By then long extinct outside of the Americas (…yes, both of them).

    That indeed did make her suspicious, but well she was enamoured enough to give him the benefit of the doubt…as they do…now and then ;-)

  96. #96 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 13, 2010

    Grading, grading, grading…and I have only had time to scan the Science article. Just like me to complain about the dearth of science discussion on Pharyngula threads, and then drop out when something exciting comes up.

    I have a nitpick, which could be the result of my own misunderstanding of hominid phylogeny:

    The oldest Neandertal fossils are approximately 400,000 years old, and the species went extinct about 30,000 years ago. That’s a good run; as measured by species longevity, Homo sapiens neandertalensis is more successful than Homo sapiens sapiens. We’re going to have to hang in there for another 200,000 years to top them.

    If H. sapiens neandertalensis and H. sapiens sapiens are considered sister lineages, they must be the same age because they share a common ancestor to the exclusion of other taxa…and therefore, we have had a longer run, extant as we are. Or are there other intervening lineages? Or possibly, do anthropologists (hominid zoologists?) incorporate anagenic species transitions into their taxonomic system? This botanist would like to know.

    Back to grading…reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Deadwood, the short-lived HBO series, in which Al Sweringen, proprietor of the Gem Saloon, opines to his favorite whore Trixie, “Many times, that’s what the fuck life is?one vile fucking task after another.”

  97. #97 Steve LaBonne
    May 13, 2010

    What an awe-inspiring technical achievement. It seems like just yesterday when getting even fragmentary mitochondrial sequences from such old specimens was a huge deal. Hats off to everyone involved.

  98. #98 amphiox
    May 13, 2010

    three cartoon movies.

    2 cartoon movies and 1 pale fascimile thereof.

    Mastodon? By then long extinct outside of the Americas (…yes, both of them).

    A claim with a level of sophistication and veracity fully consistent will modern male post-coital behavior, then.

    If H. sapiens neandertalensis and H. sapiens sapiens are considered sister lineages, they must be the same age because they share a common ancestor to the exclusion of other taxa…and therefore, we have had a longer run, extant as we are. Or are there other intervening lineages?

    The ages are the earliest known fossils with the requisite anatomy to fit the classification. The presumtive common ancestor, H. heidelbergensis had a range extending from Africa to Europe (they were a second (third? fourth?) out-of-Africa hominid wave). Presumably H. neanderthalensis branched from the European population, and H. sapiens branched from the African population, at a later date. Pending more fossil evidence. (I believe there are Heidelberg specimens from the 200,000 – 400,000 intervening interval in Africa, suggesting that modern humans did in fact emerge from the ancestral species later than the Neandertals).

  99. #99 Stagyar zil Doggo
    May 13, 2010

    A significant revelation from this work is the discovery of the signature of interbreeding between modern humans and Neandertals. … Modern European, Asian, and South Pacific populations now contain 1-4% Neandertal DNA.

    Given that no Genomes of any common ancestor of Neandartals and AM Humans exist, how does one determine whether any shared DNA is due to common ancestry or interbreeding?

  100. #100 Steve LaBonne
    May 13, 2010

    Stagyar, click PZ’s John Hawks link above. He explains it well.

  101. #101 sean.peters3
    May 13, 2010

    Some other posters have hinted at this, but… I’m sort of uncomfortable in dividing H. sapiens into “humans” and “Neandert(h)als”. Surely both we and they are “humans”, right? I mean, of course I realize that this is a totally academic question, but I can’t imagine that if we invented time travel tomorrow, it would be considered ethical to do anything to a Neanderthal that would be unethical to do to a member of our own subspecies. Not that it’s guaranteed that we’d play nice – after all, we’re unethical to ourselves all the time. Anyway, it’s an interesting problem in terminology.

    And while we’re in the realm of angels dancing on pins: how distant can the relationship be between some other hominid and H. sapiens before said creature isn’t “human” any more? I vote for the genus level: if you’re Homo you’re in.

  102. #102 iambilly
    May 13, 2010

    I vote for the genus level: if you’re Homo you’re in.

    You realize, of course, that you just freaked out the entire Christian right, right?

  103. #103 irenedelse
    May 13, 2010

    @ Pacal #72:

    I suspect that the Neanderthals were probably scattered in small groups and made up a fairly small scattered population. The invading modern Humans were probably, with their very large technical edge, in vastly greater numbers.

    Actually, from what we know about Neandertal and H. sapiens during the period considered, the latter didn’t have yet any significant technological edge. Both populations used the same stone tools (the widespread Mousterian tools), and in fact, in archaeological sites where only tools are found, with no human remains, it is practically impossible to decide if the tool makers were H. sapiens or Neandertal.

  104. #104 irenedelse
    May 13, 2010

    @ David Marjanovi? #92:

    France’s Neander valley

    France?

    Germany, of course! There’s been wars for less than that… ;-)

    typical male though woke up next morning and muttered summat about some Mastodon hunt with the boys that he could not miss…ain’t seen him since…!

    Mastodon? By then long extinct outside of the Americas (…yes, both of them).

    Yep. Europe at the time had Mammoth, woolly rhinos, and lots and lots of horses and reindeer. The last two species were probably the main protein sources for humans in Europe during the last glacial period.

  105. #105 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 13, 2010

    The presumtive common ancestor, H. heidelbergensis had a range extending from Africa to Europe (they were a second (third? fourth?) out-of-Africa hominid wave). Presumably H. neanderthalensis branched from the European population, and H. sapiens branched from the African population, at a later date. Pending more fossil evidence. (I believe there are Heidelberg specimens from the 200,000 – 400,000 intervening interval in Africa, suggesting that modern humans did in fact emerge from the ancestral species later than the Neandertals).

    amphiox: muchos nachos for the explanation. What the hominid taxonomists are doing seems strange. Most often, the nodes of a phylogeny are treated as hypothetical ancestors, and real organisms (or gene sequences) occupy the tips of branches whether extinct or extant.

    Stagyar zil Doggo said:

    Given that no Genomes of any common ancestor of Neandartals and AM Humans exist, how does one determine whether any shared DNA is due to common ancestry or interbreeding?

    Interesting question. Lineage sorting (random fixation of polymorphisms on short fat branches), may be as good an explanation. However, I think coalescent methods can tease these two explanations apart. Must grade seven more term papers, and then I can read this one (kind of a behemoth paper for Science at, like 12 pages?) to see how they handle this.

  106. #106 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmHWq8OAnBwrPDrX0SGxJvll7SUT4PfIiM
    May 13, 2010

    Genome sequencing, so easy a cave man could do it.

    Biodiversivist

  107. #107 amphiox
    May 13, 2010

    What the hominid taxonomists are doing seems strange.

    No argument there. And they can get so “passionate” over their particular preferred version of the strangeness, too.

    And while we’re in the realm of angels dancing on pins: how distant can the relationship be between some other hominid and H. sapiens before said creature isn’t “human” any more? I vote for the genus level: if you’re Homo you’re in.

    This is interesting, as objectively, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis were both much more similar to Australopithecus africanus than either of them were to Homo sapiens. The thing is, taxonomy was initially developed to distinguish and classify organisms in the present, and as such, works best when one is looking only at a single slice of time. Once you start mixing time periods and trying to assemble evolutionary lineages, things get real messy real fast. The old joke about how the most accurate way of classifying fossils is not to use names at all but to assign each specimen a number or series of numbers really is apropos, though one can envision the resultant obtuseness of the scientific literature (as in more obtuse than it already is) that would result and shudder.

  108. #108 irenedelse
    May 13, 2010

    The sex lives of Paleolithic humans keep getting, well, interesting.

    first, according to a study by Jeffrey Long et al., discussed recently in New Scientist, H. neandertalensis is not the only non-human hominin our dear ancestors did the beast with two backs with. Sexual intercouse with H. erectus and/or H. floresiensis are serious candidates to explain why there’s “a spike in genetic diversity in Indo-Pacific peoples, dating to around 40,000 years ago”.

    And then, there is this new Eurasian human species Jerry Coyne is blogging about: the “Woman X” from Caucasus, whose genes were also sequenced by the team of Svante Paabo, and who may be a representative of another species of the Homo genus, living in Eurasia at the same time as H. neandertalensis and H. sapiens.

    Polyamorous in the Pleistocene? Now, there’s something to fantasy about…

  109. #109 broboxley OT
    May 13, 2010

    thanks PZ appreciate you taking the time for this

  110. #110 darth_borehd
    May 13, 2010

    I’m confused.

    I thought that modern humans and Neanderthals were different species of humans.

    Isn’t the definition of different species being that they cannot interbreed and produce fertile offspring?

  111. #111 Vicki
    May 13, 2010

    Darth–

    First, if modern humans and Neandertals interbred, such that some of us are 1-4% Neandertal, others may not be, and all of us can interbreed, maybe H. neandertalensis doesn’t count as a species. These things happen; many zoologists no longer consider dogs a distinct species from wolves.

    Second, interbreeding and producing fertile offspring is a standard definition, yes. It’s also imperfect in a number of ways. For example, it works better with animals than with plants, and is problematic when you discuss organisms that reproduce only or primarily asexually. (We don’t want to treat each basically identical member of an all-female population of parthenogenetic lizards as its own species, but none of them will ever interbreed.)

    Another problem is that there’s no way to apply that test to fossils. Time gaps are a problem: if you have one specimen from 2.7 million years ago, one from 2.3 mya, and one from 2.2 mya, the one in the middle might look significantly like both the endpoints, but the endpoints seem to be different species. Even aside from that, the chances are that if you had a complete sequence of parent to child to grandchild to … there would be no clear place where you could say “this organism and its siblings are a different species from their parents.” Evolution doesn’t work that way (or usually doesn’t).

  112. #112 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 13, 2010

    darth: Species are confusing. There are 20-30 species concepts out there (depending on you classify those). The one that you reference looks essentially like the biological species concept; it is the focal concept of most udnergraduate biology textbooks and therefore the one that most people are familiar with. Taxonomists very rarely use it when circumscribing species, though, because in many cases it is impractical. Think about naming dinosaur species…it would be pretty challenging to do the right kind of breeding experiment. Then you have asexual populations in which every individual is essentially its own species under the BSC. In many systems, interfertility is not binary. Populations are able to produce viable offspring with varying degrees of success. I couldn’t tell tou what exactly distinguishes a neandertal from an anatomically modern human, but my bet is that the distinction is one of anatomy/morphology.

  113. #113 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    May 13, 2010

    @ irenedelse # 108:

    first, according to a study by Jeffrey Long et al., discussed recently in New Scientist, H. neandertalensis is not the only non-human hominin our dear ancestors did the beast with two backs with. Sexual intercouse with H. erectus and/or H. floresiensis are serious candidates to explain why there’s “a spike in genetic diversity in Indo-Pacific peoples, dating to around 40,000 years ago”.

    Could Homo Sapiens have contributed much in the way of genetic diversity, though? Remember we went through a population bottleneck that makes us all basically clones of each other. (And only about 1/4 of that diversity ever left Subsharan Africa.) All the other Homo (sub)species we could have mated with would presumably be much more genetically diverse, like chimps and gorillas are today, despite their much smaller populations.

  114. #114 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 13, 2010

    I finally got some time to read this, and I must admit that most of the inferences used here are counterintuitive to me, in that they are not explicitly phylogenetic. Also, there is not any mention of the possibility of lineage sorting. I have to read some of the other lit, I suppose.

    108: Off the top of my head, a spike in genetic diversity in human island populations could be attributed to Carson’s bottleneck-flush model*, especially if lots of bottlenecks occurred through island hopping. Again, I’m not familiar so much with human evolutionary genetic literature…so I guess there is even more reading I would need to do on this. Anyone more clued in than me?

    {Still not done grading}

    *Release of selection pressure on islands where predators and pathogens are not present might actually lead to an increase in variation, in that novel alleles, recombinants would be under less selection pressure.

  115. #115 amphiox
    May 13, 2010

    Remember we went through a population bottleneck that makes us all basically clones of each other. (And only about 1/4 of that diversity ever left Subsharan Africa.) All the other Homo (sub)species we could have mated with would presumably be much more genetically diverse, like chimps and gorillas are today, despite their much smaller populations.

    That would have to depend on whether or not the other Homo species also experienced the bottleneck. If the bottleneck was caused by a natural disaster like the eruption of the Toba supervolcano, as some have proposed, it’s hard to imagine that the Asian H. erectus population, at the least, wouldn’t also be very hard hit (and H. floresiensis has got to have counted themselves lucky to have survived at all….)

  116. #116 Pygmy Loris
    May 13, 2010

    This is so freaking awesome. I remember hoping they’d get nuclear DNA way back when the first mtDNA sequences were published. YAY!

    Ian Tattersall is rolling over in his grave!

    (OK, so he is not “Technically” dead, but after this, who knows?)

    Yeah, but it looks like his positions might be :)

    Neandertals were big and powerful and muscular, but they were short – an adaption to cold climate, or so I hear, about 5′ 2-3″. Heidelbergs (or whatever you choose to call the African part of that population) on the other hand were apparently big and muscular and tall – there was that one fossil of a young teenage boy who was already 6′ plus and not yet full grown.

    Nope, Nariokotome Boy (KNM-WT 15000) was Homo ergaster and is 1.5 million years old. H. heidelbergensis is, depending on who you ask, confined to Europe and the fossils date to the Middle Pleistocene nearly 1 million years later.

    They don’t actually refer to the species name (correctly or incorrectly spelt) anywhere in the paper, so they won’t incur the wrath of the ICZN.

    That’s not uncommon for papers on Neandertals. The debate is so intense that many people simply refer to the fossils as Neandertals and don’t use specific names.

    Bears are neocons?

    LOL!

    If H. sapiens neandertalensis and H. sapiens sapiens are considered sister lineages, they must be the same age because they share a common ancestor to the exclusion of other taxa…and therefore, we have had a longer run, extant as we are. Or are there other intervening lineages? Or possibly, do anthropologists (hominid zoologists?) incorporate anagenic species transitions into their taxonomic system? This botanist would like to know.

    Are you asking pesky questions about species names??? If you go by H. s. neanderthalensis and H. s. sapiens then the preceeding species are H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis respectively and the last common ancestor was either H. ergaster or H. erectus depending on whether you define the latter strictly as an Asian species, or include the African ancestors who initially spread to Asia and Europe. Alternatively there are some weird fossils from Dmanisi that are not H. ergaster or H. erectus that may be from the same population that first spread out of Africa. It’s all very complicated.

    The presumtive common ancestor, H. heidelbergensis had a range extending from Africa to Europe (they were a second (third? fourth?) out-of-Africa hominid wave).

    Um, no, H. heidelbergensis evolved in Europe, probably from the population that the H. antecessor fossils are from.

    I believe there are Heidelberg specimens from the 200,000 – 400,000 intervening interval in Africa, suggesting that modern humans did in fact emerge from the ancestral species later than the Neandertals

    This is the problem. There’s a lack of hominin fossils from the appropriate time period in Africa. We don’t know what was going on there when H. heidelbergensis appears in Europe around 600Kya.

    This is interesting, as objectively, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis were both much more similar to Australopithecus africanus than either of them were to Homo sapiens.

    Too true about habilis and rudolfensis, but their inclusion in Homo is based entirely on the use of stone tools, which is really stupid. The expansion of the braincase that is characteristic of Homo doesn’t happen until H. ergaster.

    Even aside from that, the chances are that if you had a complete sequence of parent to child to grandchild to ? there would be no clear place where you could say “this organism and its siblings are a different species from their parents.” Evolution doesn’t work that way (or usually doesn’t).

    Nevermind that it doesn’t even work very well for many extant species. The mere existence of the question of how to define varieties vs. species was a chapter long argument in Origin of Species. Darwin basically said we wouldn’t have this problem if god had specially created each species because there would be very clear dividing lines between species then.

    To sum up the whole species thing, if Neandertals and anatomically modern Homo sapiens (amHs) could interbreed, that would support a single species concept for the two. This would make the currently moderately accepted division between H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis disappear, and we would probably go back to a more widely accepted definition of most of the Middle Pleistocene hominins from Europe and Africa* as archaic H. sapiens, which would be cool.

    *I didn’t mention Asia because there’s not much from this time period known. Sucks, doesn’t it?

  117. #117 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 14, 2010

    Pygmy L: You kind of answered my question, but it wasn’t the one you think I was asking. I think.

    In many other fields of systematics, we don’t consider a named species as an ancestor to another species. All actual species are treated as branches of the tree (extinct or extant), and all ancestors are hypothetical (since they consist not of coded specimens, but suites of character state optimizations). If I ever proposed that the extinct Magnolia latahensis was the ancestor of Magnolia grandiflora, people would look at me funny. Or chuck shit at me, possibly. But that’s the tradition that I’m used to, and it is clearly different from what the hominin* taxonomists are doing. As usual, it would be nice to have Dinosaur David M.’s appraisal of the sitch. Last I looked, he was gently pawing around a cretin on another thread.

    I am still grading, but can’t shake the impression that these guys have analyzed the data subefficiently.

    *I hope I’m using this right…still used to the older hominid which now refers to a broader group. I think.

  118. #118 Pygmy Loris
    May 14, 2010

    Antiochus Epiphanes,

    I think in the actual literature no one’s making claims of ancestor descendant relationships anymore, and I teach that we’re talking about sister taxa not explicit ancestor-descendant relationships. OTOH, at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meetings I have had conversations with paleoanthropologists who do use the language of ancestor-descendant relationships. I know that I’ve heard some of the people who are working on Homo floresiensis say that it is descended from H. erectus. Paleoanth is, apparently, a bit different from most paleotonlogy.

    *I hope I’m using this right…still used to the older hominid which now refers to a broader group. I think.

    You are. Hominid now means great ape (gorillas, chimpanzees, orang utans and humans).

  119. #119 yoavbressler
    May 15, 2010

    Re. Neanderthals. I recall an advice from ‘do androids dream of electric sheep’ by P.K.Dick. First you sleep with them, then you kill them. Never vice versa.

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