In Nature this week, an international team led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Svante Pääbo reports on the analysis of DNA from the jawbone of one of the earliest modern humans uncovered in Europe and suggests that they may have had a Neanderthal relative just four to six generations prior. The finding indicates that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred in Europe more recently than previously believed. The researchers extracted genomic data from the bone powder of the modern human, who lived between 37,000 years and 42,000 years ago, and discovered that between 6 percent and 9.4 percent of the individual's genome is derived from Neanderthals — more than any other modern human sequenced thus far.
And in Nature Genetics, a group of Chinese scientists publishes the results of a study revealing a single gene that played a key role in the domestication of soybeans. The wild-type version of the gene creates hard soybean seeds, which protects them, but makes them difficult to cultivate. A mutation in the gene, however, leads to soft seeds, which more easily take up water and germinate faster. The investigators compared sequences of the gene across soybean strains and concluded that early farmers selected for the specific mutation they discovered. Notably, some strains did not have the mutations, but instead produced seeds prone to cracking, which provides another entryway for water.