Sunday, May 09, 2010

Who are We?

The veil of ignorance is slowing being lifted.

This report in Naturenews suggests that the genomes of most modern humans are 1–4% Neanderthal. A sample from the report:

"This will change our view of humanity," says John Hardy, a neuroscientist at University College London who was not involved in the research but studies genetic neurodegenerative diseases.

The drive to sequence the complete Neanderthal genome began about five years ago following the invention of better, faster methods for sequencing DNA. From three Neanderthal bones found in Vindija Cave in Croatia, the team extracted a total of about 300 milligrams of bone. The bones date to between 38,300 and 44,400 years ago, and some have been broken open posibbly to remove their marrow — a sign of cannibalism.

.... Using the Neanderthal genome for comparison, Pääbo and his colleagues were also able to identify genes that occur frequently in modern humans, suggesting that such genes are the result of selection pressure.

The report notes genes that affect metabolism, cognition and skeletal development show similar signs of such positive selection in modern humans. And there was positive selection for three genes, that when mutated, have been implicated in Down syndrome, autism and schizophrenia1.

The Neanderthal draft genome provides "a powerful method to shine a light on our evolutionary history", says Green — a technique that will reveal the genomic regions and genes that are keys to our human identity.

There couldn't be a more exciting time to be working in the humanities or social sciences than there is now!