Are all people technically related

Interview with Svante Pääbo How many Neanderthals are still in us?

Prof. Svante Pääbo has been studying the genetic information of the Neanderthal for two decades. In the meantime, two thirds of the genome of our ancestors has been decoded, the missing sequences have been replaced with statistical methods, i.e. calculated. But there are still many unanswered questions to which he is looking for answers.

The Neanderthal is our closest relative. If we want to know what defines us modern humans, what our genetic and biological characteristics are, then we have to compare ourselves with the Neanderthals.

Prof. Svante Pääbo, physician and biologist, MPI Leipzig

Although scientists now know so much about the Neanderthal genome, we are still pretty much in the dark about the behavior and appearance of our ancestors. Because there is no method by which one could deduce directly from a gene segment. But there are parts of the genome that we still carry today and that allow at least a few assumptions:

We discovered gene variants that come from the Neanderthals and that can lead to type 2 diabetes in us. A gene that becomes our doom because we overeat all our lives apparently saved our ancestors in times of hunger.

Prof. Svante Pääbo

How often have we had sex with Neanderthals?

The researchers have since found out that Neanderthals and modern humans met and also had children together. However, it is unclear how many members of each population existed at the same time. It is therefore difficult to say how many of these "mixed relationships" existed and how many descendants arose from them.

We found the remains of a modern man in Romania who lived about 40,000 years ago. We could at least prove that he had Neanderthal relatives in his family tree four to six generations earlier. The more such finds we can examine, the more we will know about them one day.

Prof. Svante Pääbo

Have we ousted our ancestors?

We modern humans and the Neanderthals have only met for a limited period of time. Shortly after we arrived in Europe, our relatives became extinct. So far it has not been possible to prove what their undoing was. But Svante Pääbo has a guess:

I am sure it has something to do with us. If it was just the Neanderthal man who disappeared, I would say he might have been prone to some disease. But all other forms of man that existed in Africa, for example, also disappeared. Today the orangutans are threatened with extinction. Then we know it's up to us.

Svante Pääbo

What use is knowledge of our relatives?

The decryption of the Neanderthal DNA is an extremely complex process that was only made possible by a specially developed technology. Like old writings, the genetic material also decays over time and is also mixed with foreign DNA by fungi and bacteria. Or even with DNA from the researchers who work with the fossils, which makes the determination even more difficult. Why did the scientists go to all this effort?

First and foremost, we are driven by curiosity. We want to learn something about our history through the genome that we would never know otherwise. And as is so often the case in basic research, we happen to find something that helps us in a completely different place.

Prof. Svante Pääbo

Pääbo's colleague Michael Thomasello assumes, for example, that our social skills are typical of us modern people, and that we influence one another, communicate something to one another. These are the characteristics that set us apart from our ancestors. They are also impaired in authists.

If we can find out where there has been a shift from Neanderthals to modern humans, we may have a chance to understand a little more about autism.

Prof. Svante Pääbo

Could we resurrect the Neanderthal man?

Svante Päabo found the Neanderthal genome and largely deciphered it. What would actually happen if this genetic material were injected into a human egg cell?

That is technically impossible and will remain impossible. We have deciphered the Neanderthal genome so far, but only two-thirds of it detailed, the rest statistical. It is also ethically impossible. We would never create a human individual out of scientific curiosity.

was born in Stockholm in 1955 and studied Egyptology, history of science and medicine at Uppsala University from 1975. During his doctoral studies, he extracted DNA from tissue samples and, in 1984, successfully applied this technique to dead tissue from mummies for the first time. Since 2000 he has been one of the five directors of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

Radio | 09/19/2017 | 6:05 pm