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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fifth of Neanderthals' genetic code lives on in modern humans

Comment: Does make you wonder if this is where certain genetic predispositions to psychopathy made an entry?  Cro-Magnon man became infected for evermore. For more on this you might want to read this astounding article. But prepare to have your beliefs challenged.


Many of the Neanderthal genes that live on in people today are involved in making keratin,
a protein used in skin, hair and nails. Photograph: Jose A Astor/Alamy

The Guardian

The last of the Neanderthals may have died out tens of thousands of years ago, but large stretches of their genetic code live on in people today.

Though many of us can claim only a handful of Neanderthal genes, when added together, the human population carries more than a fifth of the archaic human's DNA, researchers found.

The finding means that scientists can study about 20% of the Neanderthal genome without having to prise the genetic material from fragile and ancient fossils.

The Neanderthal traces in our genetic makeup are the lasting legacy of sexual encounters between our direct ancestors and the Neanderthals they met when they walked out of Africa and into Eurasia about 65,000 years ago.

The populations of both groups were likely so small that interbreeding was a rare event, but the benefits of some Neanderthal genes were so great that they spread through the population and linger on in modern non-Africans today.

Benjamin Vernot and Joshua Akey at the University of Washington in Seattle sequenced the genomes of more than 600 people from Europe and eastern Asia. They then used a computer analysis to find gene variants that bore all the hallmarks of having come from Neanderthals.

To see whether the technique worked, they checked the genes against the official Neanderthal genome, which was sequenced from fossil remnants in 2010 by researchers in Germany.

The researchers found that while most non-Africans carried 1 to 3% Neanderthal DNA, the total amount in modern humans reached about 20%. "Although Neanderthals are extinct, there's still a lot of genetic information about them floating around, in our own genomes. It's not necessarily useful in that it will cure cancer, but it helps us to learn about our history," Vernot told the Guardian. Details of the study are reported in Science.

The researchers now believe that even deeper mining of modern genomes could help to find genetic traces of other archaic humans.

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