What sets humans apart from other organisms? That is a question that fascinates many scientists. Recently, we have determined high-quality genome sequences from Neandertals, the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humans. This has enabled us to identify genetic changes in the human genome that all or almost all present-day humans share, no matter where they live on the planet, and that set us apart from Neandertals as well as chimpanzees and other apes. These genetic differences constitute an essentially complete “genetic recipe” for being a modern human. Our project, A Cell and Molecular Approach to Research into the Biological Basis of the Human Condition, aims to analyze these genetic differences and identify those that have functional consequences – in particular with respect to the cognitive and social abilities that have made possible the development of rapidly changing technology, large societies, art and perhaps modern language.
Director, Department of Genetics
Max Planck Institute