The researchers from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, led by Professor Gregory Hannon, and from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led by Svante Paabo, said they have, for the first time, re-sequenced large parts of a nuclear genome using ancient DNA.
They said their study accomplished two things: They obtained important genomic information from a tiny quantity of highly contaminated Neanderthal DNA from Spain and amplified and sequenced only those portions that code for proteins.
The scientists said they were able to use the results to determine the extent to which Neanderthals differ from modern humans at the level of the proteins produced by their full set of genes.
The researchers said their study showed Neanderthals and humans differ so much less than expected, it left them wondering if the differences are really functionally significant.
Hannon calls the findings "a major scientific event of historic significance."
The research is reported in the online issue of the journal Science.