Modern humans more Neanderthal than once thought, studies suggest

Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:40pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It's getting harder and harder to take umbrage if someone calls you a Neanderthal.

According to two studies published on Wednesday, DNA from these pre-modern humans may play a role in the appearance of hair and skin as well as the risk of certain diseases.

Although Neanderthals became extinct 28,000 years ago in Europe, as much as one-fifth of their DNA has survived in human genomes due to interbreeding tens of thousands of years ago, one of the studies found, although any one individual has only about 2 percent of caveman DNA.

"The 2 percent of your Neanderthal DNA might be different than my 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA, and it's found at different places in the genome," said geneticist Joshua Akey, who led one of the studies. Put it all together in a study of hundreds of people, and "you can recover a substantial proportion of the Neanderthal genome."

Both studies confirmed earlier findings that the genomes of east Asians harbor more Neanderthal DNA than those of Europeans. This could be 21 percent more, according to an analysis by Akey and Benjamin Vernot, published online in the journal Science.

Still, "more" is a relative term.

According to the paper by geneticists at Harvard Medical School, published in Nature, about 1.4 percent of the genomes of Han Chinese in Beijing and south China, as well as Japanese in Tokyo come from Neanderthals, compared to 1.1 percent of the genomes of Europeans.

Anthropologists expressed caution about the findings.   Continued...

An exhibit shows the life of a neanderthal family in a cave in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Nikola Solic