Neanderthals dumb?

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

This figure is from the Supplement (p.62) of a recent Nature paper describing a high quality genome sequence obtained from the toe of a female Neanderthal who lived in the Altai mountains in Siberia. Interestingly, copy number variation at 16p11.2 is one of the structural variants identified in a recent deCODE study as related to IQ depression; see earlier post Structural genomic variants (CNVs) affect cognition.

From the Supplement (p.62):

Of particular interest is the modern human-specific duplication on 16p11.2 which encompasses the BOLA2 gene. This locus is the breakpoint of the 16p11.2 micro-deletion, which results in developmental delay, intellectual disability, and autism5,6. We genotyped the BOLA2 gene in 675 diverse human individuals sequenced to low coverage as part of the 1000 Genome Project Phase I7 to assess the population distribution of copy numbers in homo-sapiens (Figure S8.3). While both the Altai Neandertal and Denisova individual exhibit the ancestral diploid copy number as seen in all the non-human great apes, only a single human individual exhibits this diploid copy number state.

My recollection from the earlier (less precise) neanderthal sequences is that the number of bp differences between them and us is few per thousand. Whereas, for modern humans it’s 1 per thousand with an additional +/-15% variation due to ethnicity. So, I think it’s fair to say that they are qualitatively much more different from us than we (moderns) are from each other. See also The genetics of humanness.

My colleague James Lee (I note he is too modest to list his Harvard Law degree on his faculty page!) describes the current era in genomics as an “age of wonder” :-)  We can anticipate tremendous discoveries in the next decade.

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.