Saturday, November 18, 2006

Homo Sapiens Hanky-Panky

The Christian Science Monitor, among others, earlier this week reported the exciting news that two scientific teams working in Europe and the U.S. are well on their way to finishing "a rough draft" of the entire genome of Neanderthal man.
[U]sing the 38,000-year-old remains of a 38-year-old male, found in a Croatian cave, each group now says it has rebuilt, or sequenced, long segments of Neanderthal DNA - the twisted, ladder-shaped molecule in the nucleus of cells that holds an organism's genetic blueprint.

The technique is not only yielding new insights into Neanderthals, reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature and Friday's issue of Science, it's also likely to prove an important tool in teasing out secrets about how plants and animals evolved, researchers say. DNA "is the ultimate forensic record of evolution," says Sean Carroll, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There's never been a more exciting time to be an evolutionary biologist."

The disturbing part in all of this is what looks like a new wrinkle in an old debate. Not the debate about what happened to Neanderthal man. The one about why Homo Sapiens, sapiens men can be such brutes to women.
Although the genome is far from complete, the teams have used the data to test questions about the history of humans and Neanderthals. One centers on the contentious issue of whether the two species interbred during the 10,000 to 20,000 years they shared the same territory in Europe and western Asia. Several paleo-anthropologists hold that the fossil record points to some interbreeding.

Dr. Rubin's group says that the genetic information his group has gathered so far shows no signs of interbreeding. The second team, led by Dr. Paabo of the Max Planck institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, suggests genes may have been mixed, but only in one direction - from male humans to Neanderthal females. [emphasis added]

Get it? Today's New York Times editorial calls it "hanky-panky." Others might call it rape.

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