A team of scientists led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany say they have found ways to sequence the whole Neanderthal genome, despite the difficulties of obtaining usable samples. They also believe they can reconstruct the genomes of the mammoth and cave bear.
"We are confident that it will be technically feasible to achieve a reliable Neanderthal genome sequence," said Pääbo and his team, who published their findings in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Reconstructing the Neanderthal genome could shed light on questions which have occupied scientists for years, such as whether modern humans are related to Neanderthals and if the two groups interbred, as some researchers believe.
It is difficult to retrieve DNA from tissues of Neanderthals, cave bears and mammoth specimens, the researchers said, as tissues were often contaminated by the DNA of microorganisms which had colonized the bodies after the individuals died. An additional problem is posed by the fact that DNA decays over time.
However the team said they could retrieve enough DNA by taking samples from different individuals, enabling the whole genome to be determined. They have also developed new procedures to prevent samples being contaminated by the DNA of the researchers working with the samples.
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