NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists today reported that they have completed sequencing and reconstructing the Neandertal mitochondrial genome. The paper, appearing online in Cell, is the latest step in the quest to unravel Neandertal history and biology using high-throughput sequencing.
An international team of researchers from Germany, the US, Croatia, and Finland used the Roche 454 sequencing platform to sequence the Neandertal mitochondrial genome to about 35 times coverage. The Neandertal DNA was isolated from a more than 38,000-year-old bone that was discovered in Vindija Cave in Croatia in 1980.
Based on comparisons between mitochondrial sequences from the Neandertal and living humans, the researchers estimated that the Neandertal population was relatively small and subject to less purifying selection than human populations. And, as was previously reported in GenomeWeb Daily News, the mitochondrial sequence suggests that Neandertals and humans diverged from a shared common ancestor about 660,000 years ago and probably did not interbreed extensively.
The researchers speculated that the small population size may have been due to recurrent glaciations in Eurasia, though the team will have to finish sequencing the Neandertal nuclear genome before they can draw further conclusions about Neandertal population size and other Neandertal characteristics.