Late last year an important discovery about Neanderthal was presented to the public. A 130,000-year-old Neanderthal toe fossil discovered in a cave in Siberia, Russia, allowed scientists to sequence a complete Neanderthal genome. This information is important both in terms of studying Neanderthals, and also understanding of what makes the lineage of humans unique. It will allow scientists to how Neanderthals and Humans interacted and the breeding habits between both species.
Nature was the journal that broke finding to the public in their peer-reviewed journal in an article titled, The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains. A staggering 46 researchers were listed as authors of the article. This includes members from the Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, as well as researches from MIT, Harvard, Cambridge, and other top-of-the -ield institutions. The researchers begin their article by documenting the original intention of their work. Denisovans are a species that separated into its own species branch from Neanderthals after humans separated from Neanderthals. They are more closely related to Neanderthals than Neanderthals were to humans.
Initially, scientists thought the Neanderthal toe bone that yielded the genome belonged to Denisovans. But an abundance of DNA had survived within the toe bone and the researchers were able to extract and document it. In the Nature article, the authors present models of subspecies lineages and the sequences DNA. A high level of education is needed to understand the terms the article employs, such as “Bayesian tree of mitochondrial sequences of the toe phalanx, the Denisovan finger phalanx, six Neanderthals and five present-day humans” (Nature, 122). As background information, the authors of present the phylogenetic relationships of the Atlai Neanderthal, complete with illustrating diagrams.” The researches concluded from the genome that at least in this population of Neanderthals, there was a lot of inbreeding going on. They back this declaration citing that seciton12 along the 40Mb of chromosome 21 shows that “the most recent common ancestor in log-scale for the two alles.”
The information is presented is systematic. They offer a thorough background as to why they undertook the research, what information they hoped to learn by conducting, and then they share the data it yielded and why they made the conclusions they did based it. Nature walks a reader through the entire process, from the discovery of the fossils to the product of their work—the complete Neanderthal genome. The researchers are aware that this data will be very useful on a variety of fronts and welcome the eventual breakthroughs in understandings that it will lead to. Combining their own sequences with other incomplete genomes sequences by other scientists (and some researchers involved in this study) show that there was more inbreeding in this Neanderthal population than there was in human populations, which, if this trend can be shown to be a species, rather than a population trend, could contribute to theories as to why humans survived and Neanderthals did not.
The researchers were able to use this new data to show that while there was inbreeding between humans, Neanderthals and Denisovan, most of that DNA disappeared as humans took their own evolutionary path. The article ends by cautioning against definitive conclusions. What the researchers see their work, as is a starting point for further research using the sequenced DNA. They make mention that what will be most interesting will be seeing differences in the genomes in areas that affect the brain.
If there is one word that could be used to sum up how the information in the Nature article is treated, it would be cautious. The research present their data in a chronological, meticulous way, and every conclusion they come to is well-backed up with data from their own research or citations of past research. A news publication covering the same discovery, The Los Angeles, did an article on the finding fgive days after The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountain was published in Nature. In the online version of the article, the text is bordered by advertising and throughout the text paragraphs are interrupted by ads.
In the article, written by LA Times’ science writer Monten Morin, the authors writes “DNA from Neanderthal toe reveals interbreeding among ancient species. The article leads with “A 50,000-year-old toe bone found in a Siberian cave is giving scientists a surprising view of the breeding habits of early humans” (LA Times, 1b) and cites the nature article as the source. However, the nature article claimed the fossil to be 130,000 years old. The article also contains a paragraph of corrections from the print version to the online version in which it lists errors that it printed the first time around, “Neanderthal DNA: An article in the Dec. 19 Section A about the discovery of a fossilized Neanderthal toe bone said that 2% of Neanderthal DNA was present in modern people not of African descent. It should have said that 2% of the DNA of these humans came from Neanderthals.” This minimizes the credibility and fact checking standards of the publication. Monten writes “Geneticists and anthropologists said the inch-long bone and resulting analysis have greatly illuminated a period of time roughly 12,000 to 126,000 years ago” but he does not explain what the inch-long bone succeeded in illuminating. The research presented in the LA Times article comes across as compromised from the get-go with the error in the first sentence, the box of corrections of incorrectly cited conclusions, and the brevity in which it treats the subject. This article assumes that the reader has very little scientific knowledge, and does not assume the readers understanding of Neanderthals and genetics is strong.
Surprisingly, the blog dearkitty1.wordpress.com does a better job of synthesizing information on the toe discovery and its implications. All of the information cited in the blog “Ancient Neanderthals, New Nesearch” includes a hyperlink that brings a reader to the original source. Also provided that is not included in the LA Times article is information about the technology leading to this new research, something that for a lay reader is important to understand. The bloggers writes, “Genome sequencing is a relatively new process that enables researchers to map and examine DNA.”
The blog post assumes that the reader has some knowledge on genetics and ancient Neanderthal life. However, it does not shy away from making complicated claims. The blogger is careful though to explain anything that might be over a reader’s head and provide a hyperlink to a site where those readers who want to learn more can get more information. The writer is meticulous and the intent is to inform. In contrast, it seems that in the LA Times article the intent is to sell Internet advertising.
In conclusion, scientific information, in order for people to understand the significance and limitations of research must have certain standards by which writers must follow. This is why there is a thoroughness, exactitude and openness about the discovery’s limitations in the peer-reviewed journal. The newspaper basically just summarized that information in a way that the reader depends on Nature as the legitimate source and the newspaper as being accurate in summarization. The blog post, since the only credibility comes from the pathos of the writer, did a more thorough job of reconstructing the data and its conclusions from the Nature article.
"Ancient Neanderthals, new research." Dear Kitty Some blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <http://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/ancient-neanderthals-new-research/>.
Zimmer, Carl. "Toe Fossil Provides Complete Neanderthal Genome." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/19/science/toe-fossil-provides-complete-neanderthal-genome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
Nature. 2014 Jan 2;505(7481):43-9. doi: 10.1038/nature12886. Epub 2013 Dec 18.