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Quality Neandertals

A high-quality Neandertal genome is now available for download from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's website. According to Max Planck, this version of the Neandertal genome (a draft version was announced in 2009) was sequenced by Svante Pääbo and his team using the Illumina HiSeq platform, getting 50-fold coverage of the genome. The researchers estimate that the genome contains about 1 percent contamination with modern human DNA.

The source for this genome was a toe bone found in Denisova Cave in Siberia — the same spot where a bone from new hominin, now called a Denisovan, was found. Pääbo and his team also sequenced that genome.

Dienekes' Anthropology blog notesthat "divergence between Neandertals and Denisovans — who were in the same place (Denisova cave), perhaps some thousands of years apart — seems to exceed that found between any two modern human groups which span the entire Earth."

“We are in the process of comparing this Neandertal genome to the Denisovan genome as well as to the draft genomes of other Neandertals," Pääbo adds in a statement. "We will gain insights into many aspects of the history of both Neandertals and Denisovans and refine our knowledge about the genetic changes that occurred in the genomes of modern humans after they parted ways with the ancestors of Neandertals and Denisovans."

The Neandertal data are freely available to all. Pääbo tells the Associated Press that he plans to publish this version of the Neandertal genome later in the year. "But we make the genome sequence freely available now to allow other scientists to profit from it even before it is published,” he says.