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In 2010, Svante Pääbo
shook the scientific world with the results from a groundbreaking genetic study. Pääbo, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, headed a team whose 5-year investigation concluded that Neanderthals, who disappeared 30,000 years ago, mated with early members of our own species. The legacy of those Neanderthals survives in the DNA of many people today: “Neanderthals are not totally extinct,” says the scientist. “In some of us they live on, a little bit.”
Through extraction of ancient DNA from a variety of sources and geographic locations, Pääbo’s team studied genetic data across time and continents. Pääbo discusses the study’s methods and findings, and later is joined by Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program of the Museum of Natural History, for a conversation about how paleogenetics can deepen our understanding of the long history of our species.
Smithsonian and Other Connections
Get an overview of Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code at the Natural History Museum, which examines the science and ethics of genomics.
Find out more about the process by which Svante Pääbo’s project decoded extinct human DNA and how that data links us to ancient ancestors.