This news just appeared. The conventional wisdom for the last decade has been that Neanderthals died out without leaving any descendants. That is, their genes died with them. Although Neanderthals were contemporaries of H. sapiens, and might have mated with them, they either didn’t hybridize or their “hybrids” were sterile.
Now, a new study by Svante Pääbo and his colleagues confirms that this genetic “introgression” did indeed take place, and that between 1% and 4% of the DNA of Europeans, Asians, and Papua New Guineans is attributable to hybridization between “modern” humans and Neanderthals. The paper will appear in Science tomorrow, and is not yet online, so I haven’t seen it. There are reports at the Guardian and the BBC, and the figure from the BBC website is below.
Oh, and Carl Zimmer, who’s undoubtedly seen the paper, has more.
Fig. 1. Introgression! Neanderthals copulate with Homo sapiens!
As one of my colleagues, who will remain unnamed, wrote me: “Now here’s a piece of speculation – what will happen when they get round to the floresiensis genome? I presume someone is beavering away at it. If we f****d Mr. or Ms. Chunky, surely we had a shag with the leprechauns!”
Update: The paper is now online here. Look at all the authors! And although I mentioned Pääbo above, the first author is Richard Green.
h/t: Greg Mayer and Matthew Cobb for the alert.