Neanderthals’ genetic footprints are evident in humans of today

Remnants of Neanderthal DNA found in modern humans are associated with diseases including Type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, lupus and cirrhosis of the liver, as well as characteristics that affect cold weather tolerance. These new findings are detailed in a paper published in this week’s journalNature.

Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich is a senior author of the paper and part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research project that examines how earlier species influence the genetic composition of modern human beings.

“This team of geneticists and biological anthropologists is carrying out cutting-edge research on how the genetic makeup of modern humans has been influenced by past species and past events,” said Elizabeth Tran, a program manager in NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate. “As methods to analyze ancient DNA continue to improve, we are able to get at answers to ever more fine-grained questions about our evolutionary history.”

The geneticists’ findings suggest ways in which Neanderthal DNA present in human genomes today affects disease risk and the production of keratin, the fibrous protein that lends toughness to skin, hair and nails and can be beneficial in colder environments by providing thicker insulation.

“Now that we can estimate the probability that a particular genetic variant arose from Neanderthals, we can begin to understand how that inherited DNA affects us,” said Reich. “We may also learn more about what Neanderthals themselves were like.”

In the past few years, studies by groups including Reich’s have revealed that present-day people of non-African ancestry trace an average of about 2 percent of their genomes to Neanderthals–a legacy of interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals that the team previously showed occurred between 40,000 to 80,000 years ago. (Indigenous Africans have little or no Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors did not breed with Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia.)

Several teams have since been able to flag Neanderthal DNA at certain locations in the non-African human genome, but until now, there was no survey of Neanderthal ancestry across the genome and little understanding of the biological significance of that genetic heritage.

Reich and colleagues, including Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, analyzed genetic variants in 846 people of non-African heritage, 176 sub-Saharan African individuals, and a 50,000-year-old Neanderthalwhose high-quality genome sequence the team published in 2013.

The researchers also showed that nine previously identified human genetic variants known to be associated with specific traits likely came from Neanderthals. These variants affect diseases related to immune function and also some behaviors, such as the ability to stop smoking. The team expects that more variants will be found to have Neanderthal origins.

The team has already begun trying to improve their human genome ancestry results with colleagues in Britain by analyzing multiple Neanderthals instead of one.

For more details on the research, see Neanderthals’ Genetic Legacy.

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5 thoughts on “Neanderthals’ genetic footprints are evident in humans of today”

  1. This is so interesting!
    I have always been open to the idea of evolution and ancestors that we may of had. I have always leaned towards the idea that we all did evolve from a common ancestor and it is remarkable that they are now finding actual proof! Sure before there was proof that lies in our similar appearances and behaviour, but it will be hard to argue with genetic evidence.

    Another aspect I like is how people of different origins have different amounts of Neanderthal DNA in them. For people who aren’t traced from Africa, that have Neanderthal DNA in them, seem to be more resilient to diseases, ect. But other studies have shown that people from Africa tend to be better adapted to things today, for example – they are better adapted to bright light with darker eyes. How does this tie in with the Neanderthals or was it just two different genes that developed independently?

    How ever what really upsets me is that people deny it. Every one is entitles to their own opinion – on that fact I will never argue. But to call someone else’s opinion wrong isn’t right, particularly when there is some sort of evidence backing it up. Brandt brings in religion on a topic where you cant really combine the two topics, making it really unfair towards everybody else. Personally I feel there is a way that the two topics, religion and evolution – can develop together. After all, who put that initial organism on earth that started evolving to what we are today?

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  3. I think it was a good respectable article on genetic research. I do not think the intention of the article is to “sneak” anywhere. It is just presenting genetic code information that some researchers have found.

  4. This might account for known racial differences. Those from Africa have not benefitted from the more robust genes from neanderthals.

    As to what it taught in school, it is merely respect for different religions. For example for Native Americans it is a religious belief that they are the first people in the new world. This also needs to be taught in science classes so people are aware of why the controversy. This is why Kenwick man was surrounded with religious and ethnic controversy. Eventually scientists proved that Kenwick man was NOT related to Native Americans.

  5. Don’t expect this “science” to sneak its way into the classrooms here in the South. Our Lord and Savior made it very clear there is no way we evolved from these savages. Tennessee has passed the Monkey Law legislation which ensures teachers can challenge these so-called scientists and their twisted research funded by the liberals in Washington. Read about how we’re keep Christ in the Classroom at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html

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