In addition to illuminating how early humans interacted, the Neandertal genome is helping to indicate which parts of the modern human genome separate us from all other creatures. Thus far Pääbo’s group has identified a number of modern human genome regions containing sequence variation that is not seen in Neandertals and that may have helped modern humans adapt. Some of these regions are involved in cognitive development, sperm movement and the physiology of the skin. But exactly how these slight changes to the modern human sequence affected the functioning of these genome regions remains to be determined. Says Pääbo: “This is just the beginning of the exploration of human uniqueness that is now possible.”
This article was originally published with the title Our Inner Neandertal.