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How do scientists sequence the DNA of ancient species?

Narrator: This is Science Today. Thanks to advances in sequencing technology, researchers are able to study ancient hominid DNA. Dr. Eddy Rubin of the Genetics Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is working on analyzing the genome of the Neanderthal. The problem in the past was determining what was Neanderthal and what wasn't.

Rubin: What happens is, you have a Neanderthal buried in the back of the cave and then you come back thirty, forty thousand years later and it's basically served as this very rich nutrient source for all kinds of things that happened to be wandering through that cave; primarily microbes that are basically living on it.

Narrator: Rubin says they sequenced a small fragment of a 38,000 year old Neanderthal bone after removing contamination and grinding it up into a fine powder.

Rubin: Eventually, it becomes a needle in a haystack problem in that most of the sequence you have is from the organisms that have been feeding on the Neanderthal and not the Neanderthal, but we have very powerful magnets that allow us to sift through all of that hay and find out sequences that are similar to human.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.