Growing Neanderthal brains in the lab (using European stem cells).

CNN covers an odd project, using Svante Paabo’s reconstructed Neanderthal genome and European stem-cell banks to recreate mini-brain cell-clusters that are up to 20% Neanderthal DNA:

“We were curious how much of the Neanderthal genome could be explored if you just have access to stem cells from the right people,” said Grayson Camp, research group leader at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology in Basel, Switzerland, and author of a new study.

The research, which was published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Reports, used stem cells from the Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative (HipSci), which recently generated a living biobank of stem cells from many different humans. Nearly all of the cell lines in the biobank are from people of UK and Northern European descent — a population highly likely to have Neanderthal genes, Camp said.

“Per individual, there’s something like between 1% and 4% of the genome likely derived from Neanderthals,” he explained.

“If you then look at 200 individuals you end up recovering about 20% of these Neanderthal genes. This means that altogether this stem cell resource has most of the Neanderthal genes present in Europeans inside.”

In the future, other body-part tissues could be cultured and studied in this way to see how Neanderthal traits might have shaped our own, Camp said.

For example, Neanderthal genes in the stem cells that have links with hair and skin color could be used to explore these traits, given that it’s already possible to generate skin organoids that have sprouted hair.

Similarly, it could potentially be used to create intestine organoids to look at how sets of enzymes process food, giving information on Neanderthal diet.

He added that it would be interesting to access stem cells from other populations around the world to study Denisovan DNA — an archaic cousin to Neanderthals whose DNA isn’t present in Europeans.

You can read the original research here, at Cell.