Volume 93, Issue 96

Thursday, March 30, 2000


Shinerama still in doubt

Freeze called for fifth year

CAPS recommends police make streets safer with less money

Taste of sugar linked to gene

Evolutionary link becomes loose with DNA study

Alliance needs more than a name change

Caught on campus


Evolutionary link becomes loose with DNA study

By Chris Lackner
Gazette Staff

It seems as if the Neanderthals may be kicked out of line when it comes to the history of human evolution.

Western associate professor of anthropology Andrew Nelson said forensic scientists at the University of Glasgow recently analyzed DNA from the remains of a Neanderthal infant.

The findings suggested humans may not have an evolutionary relationship with the Neanderthal species. Nelson said the research showed the infant DNA was so different from modern man's, it ruled out the possibility of the two species interbreeding.

The new research was compared with a Neanderthal DNA study conducted in 1997, said professor Dee Rokala, acting dean of anthropology at the University of Manitoba. Rokala explained the researchers found similarities between the DNA strains in both studies, which suggested little genetic diversity among Neanderthals. This would remove them even further on their evolutionary path from modern man.

Anthropology professor James Paterson at the University of Calgary said he doubted the accuracy and implications of the new study. "One of the things you have to realize is that both studies focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is just a segment of DNA structure."

Nelson said although he was enthusiastic about the new study, he remained cautious. "It is my belief that Neanderthals are a separate species. However, DNA is not the God-given answer to these questions," he said. "Neanderthal's relation to modern man has been debated for years. DNA is only one more step to uncovering the truth."

Rokala said he was not convinced DNA similarities between the two Neanderthals meant anything conclusive. "The studies of previously discovered remains have led some researchers to suggest the existence of a hybrid between Neanderthal and modern man. If evidence proves the existence of a hybrid, then this DNA research would be obsolete. Different species can't successfully interbreed," he added.

Nelson explained the term Neanderthal was normally associated with skeletal remains found in Europe and the surrounding geographical area. He explained the DNA evidence gave weight to the "Out of Africa" theory which he and many other paleontologists believe. This theory details modern man evolving from a small segment of sapiens in Africa, who later migrated out of the continent.

"DNA is subject to the same problems as other kinds of data. People think it's high-tech, but it's not perfect. Two sets of DNA aren't enough to put this question to bed."

To Contact The News Department:

Copyright The Gazette 2000