Thursday, 5 October 2017

Feeling peckish? Blame the Neanderthals!

Our ancient ancestors have a role in today's smoking habits, moods and sleeping patterns, say researchers. It is estimated around two per cent of the DNA in non-African people today comes from Neanderthals. Early humans migrating from Africa interbred with Neanderthals in Europe roughly 100,000 years ago, and this DNA mixing still contributes to several modern traits.

Previous studies have shown that Neanderthal DNA plays a role in human immunity and our susceptibility to certain diseases. But this is the first time the ancient genes have been shown to affect traits that change how we look and behave.

The team compared genetic data to DNA from a Neanderthal specimen found in the Altai mountains in Russia.
Neanderthals are a human-like species that evolved from a shared ancestor, but split from humans between 1,000,000 and 800,000 years ago. Neanderthals had been in Europe for thousands of years before humans arrived. Early humans migrating from Africa interbred with Neanderthals in Europe roughly 100,000 years ago, and this DNA mixing still contributes to modern human traits. Findings suggest that Neanderthals might have differed in their hair and skin tones, much as people now do.

Researchers noted the traits influenced by Neanderthal DNA, including skin and hair pigmentation, mood and sleeping patterns, are all linked to sunlight exposure. Neanderthals were likely well adapted to lower and more variable levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, while the new human arrivals from Africa were not.

Neanderthal Skull (Homo neanderthalensis)