Neandertal news? Eh…

Credit: CHRISTINE VERNA/MPI-EVA

Credit: CHRISTINE VERNA/MPI-EVA

By Jeremy Manier

Like PZ at Pharyngula, I’m still looking for some concrete news in today’s seemingly big announcement – at the AAAS conference here in Chicago –  that scientists have sequenced most of the Neandertal genome from 38,000-year-old bones taken from a Croatian cave. In some ways the feat itself is an amazing story – getting enough usable DNA from these ancient bones to sequence 3 billion bases, in hopes of finally learning more about the biology of the last extinct subspecies of humans.

But the Science news story about the find doesn’t elaborate on a key bit of perspective until the sixth paragraph – “For now, there’s not enough sequence to do more than make a rough sketch of Neandertals.” That’s not at all surprising, but it seems to limit the news value of this. After all, the team’s stated ambition is to decipher “what really made modern humans ‘modern.'” But barring further elaboration from the research team today, I can’t see even a preliminary result that speaks to that issue. So the real news today is probably just the technical feat required to get this far. The rest is speculation – including the very far-out idea of using a Neandertal genome to modify human DNA and produce a Neandertal-like baby. As tough as today’s feat was, actually cloning a Neandertal appears to be “technically impossible.”

CREDIT: JOHANNES KRAUSE/MPI-EVA

CREDIT: JOHANNES KRAUSE/MPI-EVA

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