Neanderthal noses influence human honkers

Key Points

  • A recent study by UCL researchers found that genetic material inherited from Neanderthals affects the shape of our noses.
  • One particular gene, which leads to a taller nose, may have been the result of natural selection as humans adapted to colder climates after leaving Africa.
  • The study used data from more than 6,000 volunteers across Latin America and found that many people in their study with Native American ancestry had genetic material inherited from the Neanderthals.

Humans have inherited genetic material from Neanderthals that affects the shape of our noses, according to a new study led by researchers from UCL.

The study used data from more than 6,000 volunteers across Latin America to compare genetic information from the participants to photographs of their faces. They looked specifically at distances between points on their faces, such as the tip of the nose or the edge of the lips, to see how different facial traits were associated with the presence of different genetic markers. The researchers newly identified 33 genome regions associated with face shape, 26 of which they were able to replicate in comparisons with data from other ethnicities using participants in east Asia, Europe, or Africa.

One genome region in particular, called ATF3, stood out to the researchers. Many people in their study with Native American ancestry had genetic material in this gene that was inherited from the Neanderthals, contributing to increased nasal height. The researchers found that this gene region has signs of natural selection, suggesting that it conferred an advantage for those carrying the genetic material. The study’s co-corresponding author, Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, said, “Here, we find that some DNA inherited from Neanderthals influences the shape of our faces. This could have been helpful to our ancestors, as it has been passed down for thousands of generations.”

The study’s first author, Dr Qing Li, explained that the shape of our noses is speculated to be determined by natural selection as our noses can help us to regulate the temperature and humidity of the air we breathe in. Different shaped noses may be better suited to different climates that our ancestors lived in. The gene identified in the study may have been inherited from Neanderthals to help humans adapt to colder climates as our ancestors moved out of Africa. The co-corresponding author, Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares, added, “Most genetic studies of human diversity have investigated the genes of Europeans; our study’s diverse sample of Latin American participants broadens the reach of genetic study findings, helping us to better understand the genetics of all humans.”

This study is the second discovery of DNA from archaic humans, distinct from Homo sapiens, affecting our face shape. The same team discovered in a 2021 paper that a gene influencing lip shape was inherited from the ancient Denisovans.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.