Nature News reports that the first complete genome sequence for a Neanderthal will be released, appropriately enough, on next Thursday, the 12th of February, and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. It’s the same group at the Max Planck Institute that released the first million bases of Neanderthal nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequence [$-a] back in 2006. As in the earlier work, the new data were collected with a “454” next-generation DNA sequencer.
The earlier publication, which I just read this week as part of a reading group focused on next-generation sequencing technology, was more like a stunt than a groundbreaking result in evolutionary genetics. The actual results were two new estimates of the human/Neanderthal divergence times (basically confirming earlier estimates), and a coalescent estimate of the effective population size of the common ancestor, neither of which would be worth a whole paper, let alone a letter to Nature.
But it was pretty awesome just as a stunt – at every step of the analysis, the authors did some clever error checking by comparing the Neanderthal sequence to human and chimpanzee genomes, and they came up with actual nuclear sequence data from a freaking Neanderthal. Ahem. The collection of an entire Neanderthal genome is a big deal as a stunt, but I’ll look forward to seeing what new insight into human evolution comes out of it.
R.E. Green, J.Krause, S.E. Ptak, A.W. Briggs, M.T. Ronan, J.F. Simons, L. Du, M. Egholm, J.M. Rothberg, M. Paunovic, S. Pääbo (2006). Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA Nature, 444 (7117), 330-6 DOI: 10.1038/nature05336