A new genetic study carried out by geneticist James Noonan at Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory, has revealed that humans and Neanderthals branched-off from a common ancestor, much earlier than previously thought. This study could put an end to the controversies surrounding the evolution of modern humans and Neanderthals, with a few theories claiming that Neanderthals actually belonged to our species, Homo sapiens, since this study highlights the similarities and differences in the genome of Neanderthals and modern humans, which confirms that Neanderthals and humans belong to different species that branched-off from a common ancestor. Neanderthals inhabited Europe and Asia for almost 300,000 years, before going extinct some 20,000 years ago. They were built to survive in cold climatic conditions that prevailed in the Ice Age, but were not able to get over the inter-specific struggle with modern humans, which might have ultimately led to their extinction.

Richard Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the National Museum of Natural History, has praised Noonan’s work, calling it as ‘highly significant’. He said that comparison to lineage in the evolutionary tree of modern humans helps in understanding the elements of genetic codes that shaped our evolution. DNA extracted from the fossilized bones of Neanderthals, were used in this study for comparison with the DNA of modern humans. 

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