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Neanderthal Man

In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo

6:23pm, March 3, 2014

The hottest thing in human evolution studies right now is DNA extracted from fossils of Neandertals and other long-gone populations. Pääbo, the dean of ancient-gene research, explains in his book how it all began when he bought a piece of calf liver at a supermarket in 1981.

In those days, DNA had been successfully pulled only from living animals. Pääbo modified the methods to extract genetic material from the dead calf’s liver, which had been heated to make it hard and dry like an Egyptian mummy. Pääbo then retrieved human DNA from an actual Egyptian mummy. A high-profile journal published his findings.

After that auspicious start, the Swedish scientist recounts how he came to run the world’s first laboratory studying ancient DNA. A recurring theme in the book concerns Pääbo’s obsessive push to eliminate sources of

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