Svante Paabo believes modern humans & Neandertals interbred

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Neanderthals ‘had sex’ with modern man:

Professor Svante Paabo, director of genetics at the renowned Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, will shortly publish his analysis of the entire Neanderthal genome, using DNA retrieved from fossils. He aims to compare it with the genomes of modern humans and chimpanzees to work out the ancestry of all three species.

Paabo recently told a conference at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory near New York that he was now sure the two species had had sex – but a question remained about how “productive” it had been.

“What I’m really interested in is, did we have children back then and did those children contribute to our variation today?” he said. “I’m sure that they had sex, but did it give offspring that contributed to us? We will be able to answer quite rigorously with the new [Neanderthal genome] sequence.”

The way Paabo is couching it, what he has found then seems likely to be evidence that humans who had just expanded Out of Africa contributed to the genomes of Neandertals. In other words, modern human introgression into Neandertals. Of course if the gene flow was from modern human to Neandertals exclusively, then it would be an evolutionary dead end since that lineage went extinct.


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  1. I’ve recently lost confidence in the assumption that of course humans and Neanderthals mated (Leaving open only the question as to whether these pairings were productive or not.)–the idea being that humans will always mate with their neighbors when given enough time. 
    What about the Andaman islanders? There have been two isolated and distinct lineages present there for at least the last 20k years. On a tiny little island.

  2. islands are strange, and subject to way reduced gene flow. this is why sardinia and iceland pop-up as “genetic outliers.”

  3. What two lineages is Kosmo talking about?

  4. actually, i don’t know.

  5. I no doubt oversold my case a bit, as the timing is still in dispute and there does seem to be some mixture, but the Andamese islands appear to have been settled in two early and distinct waves, the remnants of which still strongly echo in the native populations today.  
    “male Onges and Jarawas almost exclusively belong to Haplotype D, which is also found in Tibet and Japan [Ainu], but is rare on the Indian mainland” and “Male Great Andamanese, unlike the Onge and the Jarawa, have a mixed presence of Y-chromosome halpgroups O, L, K and P, which places them between mainland Indian and Asian populations”