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454, Max Planck Institute to Sequence Neandertal Genome

NEW YORK, July 20 (GenomeWeb News) - 454 Life Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology plan to sequence the complete Neandertal genome, the partners said today.


During the two-year project, which will be supported by a grant from the Max Planck Society, the sequencing team will reconstruct a draft of the 3-billion-base genome from samples gathered from several Neandertal individuals, according to a statement.


Sequencing a Neandertal "promises to yield more insight into human biology than the sequencing of any individual human," Christopher McLeod, president and CEO of 454 Life Sciences, said in the statement.


Svante Paabo, director of the department of evolutionary anthropology at the Max Planck Institute, explained why: "The analysis of the estimated 4 percent of genome variation that Neandertal shares with the chimpanzee will help us to understand the evolution of characteristics specific to Homo sapiens and perhaps even aspects of cognitive function," he said in the statement. "This next leap in Neandertal research will also identify those genetic changes that enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world."


The Max Planck Society's decision to fund the project is based on an analysis of approximately 1 million base pairs of nuclear Neandertal DNA from a 45,000-year-old Croatian fossil that 454 Life Sciences sequenced.

"Unlike the human genome project, Neandertal samples are extremely scarce and have been contaminated with microbial DNA over tens of thousands of years," said Michael Egholm, vice president of molecular biology at 454.
The DNA sequences determined by 454's Genome Sequencer 20 system are 100-200 base pairs in length, which "coincides" with the length of ancient DNA fragments, the partners said.


The project comes one month after French and Belgian researchers said they have analyzed the mitochondrial DNA from the molar of a Neandertal child to find that the genetic diversity among Neandertals was higher than previously thought.