Neanderthals and modern humans shared an ancestor that lived about 660,000 years ago, according to scientists who have pieced together the first complete sequence of maternal DNA from humanity's closest cousins.
The DNA evidence also verified that the two species did not interbreed during the 10,000 to 20,000 years they coexisted in Europe and western Asia after humans migrated there from Africa. The last of the Neanderthals died out about 30,000 years ago, though some scientists speculate that at least a few of their genes live on in humans.
"Neanderthals made no lasting contribution to the modern human [maternal] DNA gene pool," a team of German, American, Croatian and Finnish researchers wrote in Friday's edition of the journal Cell.
The team focused on mitochondrial DNA, a relatively short string of 16,565 As, Ts, Cs and Gs that spell out 13 genes for controlling the energy sources of cells. Unlike nuclear DNA, which is unique for every person, mitochondrial DNA is passed virtually unchanged from mother to child.