Humans and Neandertals mated more recently than thought

Interbreeding still occurred about 37,000 years ago, Romanian DNA suggests

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. — A Neandertal was the great-great-great-great-grandparent of a man who lived between 42,000 and 37,000 years ago in Romania.

DNA extracted from the bones of a human man known as Oase 1 contains 4.8 to 11.3 percent Neandertal DNA arranged in long stretches, Qiaomei Fu of Harvard University reported May 8 at the Biology of Genomes meeting. The large amount and long stretches of Neandertal DNA indicate that the man had a Neandertal relative four to six generations back in his family tree.

The new findings suggest that humans and Neandertals continued interbreeding in Europe up until shortly before Neandertals went extinct. Neandertals died out as recently as 30,000 years ago.

Present day people with non-African ancestry carry about 1 to 2 percent Neandertal DNA. Previously, researchers had calculated that humans and Neandertals last interbred in the Middle East 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

More Stories from Science News on Genetics