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New method reveals how differences in the genetic “instruction booklet” between humans and Neanderthals influenced traits

Posted by on Tuesday, October 8, 2019 in featured.

When it comes to our differences from Neanderthals, most of what we know comes from comparing fossils. But fossils can only tell us about bones and not whole living organisms.

That’s changing thanks to a new paper from graduate student Laura Colbran in the lab of Tony Capra, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and @EvolutionVU Advisory Board member, who have developed a first-of-its-kind computational method. Their approach uses Neanderthal DNA that remains in those bones to find differences in how genes are controlled between modern humans and Neanderthals. This newfound ability to study changes in the on/off “instructions” for genes, also known as gene regulation, helps identify differences that fossils alone cannot tell us. The study appeared in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Press release