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Genetic legacy of the Neanderthal
Thursday 23 March 2017

A recent article by Andy Coghlan on newscientist.com - Extinct Neanderthals still control expression of human genes - reports on latest research which claims that Neanderthals are still affecting what illnesses some people develop, how tall they are and how their immune systems work, despite being extinct for 40,000 years.

Genetic legacy of the Neanderthal

A study, based on the Neanderthal DNA of non-African descent inherited from ancestors who mated with our cousins some 50,000 years ago, has revealed how this genetic legacy is still controlling how some people's genes work, with possible consequences for their health.

 
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Neanderthal influence has waned fastest in parts of the body that evolved most rapidly around that time, especially the brain. It suggests that once our direct human ancestors had evolved the equipment for sophisticated language and problem-solving, mating with Neanderthals - and the DNA that came with it - rapidly fell out of fashion. However, Neanderthal influence of human genes endures, some of it positive and some negative. 

The study, led by Joshua Akey at the University of Washington in Seattle, is based on analysis of DNA from 214 people in the USA, focusing on individuals of European ancestry. By comparing their modern DNA with that from Neanderthals - whose genome was sequenced in 2008 - the team was able to identify which Neanderthal gene fragments had survived and were still active in 52 different types of human tissue.

Results showed that some people had one human and one Neanderthal copy of the same gene. When comparing these genes, a quarter showed differences in activity between the modern and Neanderthal versions of the same gene. More importantly, the researchers could tell which variant had the upper hand.

For example, Neanderthals may still be protecting some people from developing schizophrenia, as well as making them taller. A gene called ADAMTSL3 is a known risk factor for schizophrenia, but the way the gene is controlled by surviving Neanderthal DNA reduces risk and increases height.

Essentially, Neanderthal sequences present in living individuals are not silent remnants of hybridisation that occurred over 50,000 years ago. Instead they have ongoing, widespread and measurable impacts on gene activity.

Conversely, receding influences were detected in the brain and the testes. Neanderthal control waned most in the cerebellum and the basal ganglia, brain regions vital for fine motor control and perception, that evolved further in humans to encompass advanced thinking, including language processing and behaviour.

The differences in the testes reflects sexual incompatibility of the species. One of the testes genes over which Neanderthal DNA lost control affects the formation of a sperm's tail and, subsequently, its ability to penetrate and fertilise an egg.

Journal reference:Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.207.01.038

Visit the ORIGINS section:

http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/origins/index.php

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PALEOANTHROPOLOGY
Skull found in Greece
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 11 July 2019
Ice Age wolf found
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 12 June 2019
DNA reveals ancient migrations
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 06 June 2019
Archaeological evidence from hearths
by Bradshaw Foundation
Monday 20 May 2019
Studio Libeskind in Kenya
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 15 May 2019
Oldest footprint in the Americas
by Bradshaw Foundation
Monday 29 April 2019
DNA reveals origin of Stonehenge builders
by Bradshaw Foundation
Tuesday 16 April 2019
New research on Homo floresiensis
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 14 March 2019
Desert West Indigenous Cosmology
by Bradshaw Foundation
Monday 21 January 2019
Route of first humans into Australia
by Bradshaw Foundation
Monday 05 November 2018
New morphometric analysis of Neanderthal
by Bradshaw Foundation
Wednesday 31 October 2018
Discovery of North America's oldest weapons
by Bradshaw Foundation
Friday 26 October 2018
Dexterous Neanderthals
by Bradshaw Foundation
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Denisova DNA proof of parenting
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 23 August 2018
New series about the Neanderthals
by Bradshaw Foundation
Monday 14 May 2018
DNA reveals early Briton
by Bradshaw Foundation
Thursday 08 February 2018
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