Neanderthal DNA

This SangerArtwork called "Neanderthal DNA" was inspired by a trip to the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, the site where the first recognised Neanderthal bones were discovered in 1856, and  recent research into the sequence of the Homo neanderthalensis genome. From this research we now know that the ancestors of modern humans had relationships with this ancient human "species" and produced offspring together. I put the word species in "quotes" because this research has shed doubt on the theory that Neanderthals were a distinct species to Homo sapiens and suggests that they were actually a subspecies that should be called Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

The Neanderthal Museum contains many life-like models of Neanderthals and other ancient human species. One that is named Mr. 4% wears a suit but is also carrying a flint tool in his hand. He represents the relationship between Neanderthals and modern humans - 4% being the average amount of DNA modern humans have inherited from these ancient ancestors. You can see me posing with him in the photo.

In this SangerArtwork I have combined the image of Mr 4% with a Sanger DNA sequence chromatogram containing DNA sequence from the Neanderthal genome. The part of the genome I chose (a small section of chromosome 9) happens to be one of the regions of the Neanderthal genome that have been retained and positively selected in the genomes of most modern Europeans. In fact around 95% of Europeans have inherited 1 or 2 copies of this region from their Neanderthal ancestors.

As well as Mr 4%, this artwork also took inspiration from 2 publications that studied Neanderthal DNA and its potential role in the genomes of modern humans. I used sequence from the most complete Neanderthal genome sequence that was derived from the bones of a female discovered in the Altai Mountains in Siberia and published in Nature in 2014. The second publication, a 2017 article published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, found that Neanderthal DNA contributes to various traits in modern Europeans, with this region of chromosome 9, which is in an intron of the BNC2 gene to be particularly important and prevalent in modern Europeans, being associated with increased incidence of childhood sunburn and poor tanning in people from the UK.

The artwork is made up of >8000 bases of Sanger DNA sequence chromatogram with the image of Mr 4% embedded into. There are 27 rows of sequence at 300 bases across, designed to be printed at a size of around 22x22 in or 55x55 cm.


This artwork is designed to be viewed both closeup - to reveal the DNA sequence, and far away - to reveal the image. The closeup that you can see below reveals some important details. The origin of the sequence (bases 1 to 8000) is shown in the bottom right corner - Altai Neanderthal DNA sequence mapped to the human genome version 37 (hg19) - chromosome 9 - from base 16796168 to 16804167 - the positions of the 12 SNPs found in the Altai Neanderthal DNA sequence are shown underneath the image. Ten of these SNPs are present in modern human populations. You can see a close up of 2 of the SNPs that are heterozygous (seen as double peaks) in the Neanderthal sequence. As with most of my SangerArtworks I have used the bases after 8000 to sign and date the design with a hidden “Sangerism”.

You can purchase this artwork in a number of different formats from Society6 or Redbubble using the links below.

Society6

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© 2020 by Daniel Wallace