Neanderthals and humans are 99.84 percent similar.
In a new study just published in the online journal Science, researchers report that Neanderthals and prehistoric humans were genetically-speaking 99.84 percent alike. Two researchers from Hebrew University in Jerusalem—Eran Meshorer, stem cell biologist and Liran Carmel, computational biologist led the investigative team that discovered the mere 0.12 percent of difference. They reported that this meant that Neanderthals and prehistoric humans were similar enough to mate and were essentially the same species.
At present, human genomes generally differ from each other by approximately 0.1 percent. It might make some people happy to know that we are only 98.8 percent similar to chimpanzees and 98.4 percent similar to gorillas in terms of shared DNA. The research team employed different computer models in order to compare the epigenomes of Neanderthals, Homo sapiens, and the Denisovans, a third human relative.
An epigenome is a record of genetic change. It includes genes that are turned on or off while the genetic sequences remain whole. This is not the same a studying a genome which is the complete record of the 3 billion molecules that make up human DNA and includes inactive and active genes as well. The investigative team believes that human genes include a ‘cellular on-off switch” which establishes which specific genes will be active and which ones won’t.
The research group also believes that that Neanderthals evolved from a common ancestor named Homo Heidelbergensis. At some point in time–between 700,000 and 300,000 years ago–Neanderthals went off from Heidelbergensis and eventually populated a significant portion of Eurasia before they became extinct. The last Neanderthals are believed to have perished about 40,000 years ago.
The researchers also note that it is more than a matter of what specific genes a given species has it is also the arrangement of said genes. How have the genes been altered? Which sections have been deleted? Which genes have been copied again and again and which have been relocated are all important questions.
The team points out that taking the numerous modifications into account, the difference between chimpanzee DNA and that of humans increases to as much as 5 percent. Therefore the gap in DNA between humans and Neanderthals could be a little bit larger than they seem. Still, one cannot deny that the difference between man and other primates is small. The difference between humans and the Neanderthals is even smaller.