Although tiny, this Neanderthal toe bone from a female who lived 50,000 years ago has yielded the most complete sequence of the Neanderthal genome. The analysis, published this week in Nature, reveals two interesting facts: First, Neanderthal family members often bred and had children -- the female whose toe was tested likely had half-sibling parents who shared the same mother. And second: Neanderthals and other human ancestral groups interbred...a lot.
Kay Prüfer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and her colleagues compared the sequence to the genomes of modern humans and a recently recognized ancestral group called the Denisovans. Their analysis shows they all mated -- particularly Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. In fact, today, up to 2.1 percent of the genomes of modern non-Africans can be traced to Neanderthals, the researchers estimate.
"There was a lot of interbreeding that we know about and probably other interbreeding we haven't yet discovered," co-author and University of California at Berkeley professor of integrative biology Montgomery Slatkin said.