International researchers have deciphered the genome of five Neanderthals who lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago, an advance that sheds light on the genetic diversity of that hominid species during the last period in which they lived with modern humans, according to a publication of the journal Nature.
A group led by Mateja Hajdinjak of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany has sequenced the genome of these five Neanderthals from fragments of bones and teeth discovered in Belgium, France, Croatia and the Russian Caucasus region.
When comparing their results with the DNA of other specimens, the Hajdinjak team concluded that the late Neanderthals separated from their common ancestor originating in Siberia about 150,000 years ago.
His analysis also suggests that much of the genetic inheritance of Neanderthals that was transferred to modern humans originated in one or more populations that diverged from the original genetic line around 70,000 years ago.
Although four of the individuals analyzed by the Max Planck Institute group lived at a time when modern humans had already arrived in Europe, no human DNA remains have been detected in their genome.
“It seems that gene flow was largely unidirectional, from Neandertals to modern humans,” Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said in a statement.
By comparing the five genomes now deciphered with other DNA remnants from older Caucasian Neanderthals, the researchers also conclude that there was high mobility in Neanderthal populations in the last part of the history of that species.
This period of mobility coincides with pronounced climatic fluctuations, between 60,000 and 24,000 years ago, a stage in which extreme cold in northern Europe could cause the extinction of local populations and boost migrations to the south of the continent and Asia.