Two teams of scientists have succeeded in decoding large parts of the Neanderthal genome, a breakthrough feat. Earlier attempts at recovering substantial DNA from fossils were stymied because the DNA was too contaminated with that of other organisms, or the DNA fragments were too small and degraded to be sequenced.The new genome was taken from a well-preserved 38,000-year-old Neanderthal leg bone found in a Croatian cave. More than a million nucleotides, or units of DNA, were analyzed using novel sequencing technology.Comparing the Neanderthal DNA with that of humans revealed a 99.5% similarity between the two species. Some nucleotides, however, differ. The number of these differences suggests that Neanderthals and humans split from a common ancestor at least 370,000 years ago. Further genetic comparisons may reveal Neanderthals' capability for cognition or speech, and could also help end the debate over whether Neanderthals and humans interbred. The scientists expect the full Neanderthal genome to be completed within two years.
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