Usually depicted as unsightly grunting caveman with protruding foreheads and almost a nonexistent neck, the Neanderthals are believed to have vanished from the face of the Earth approximately 40,000 years ago. However, scientists say they still have an impact on modern human’s health and looks through their genome.
A team of researchers from the University of Washington has analyzed how Neanderthals could still influence gene development in humans of today. The scientists believe these ancient genes passed through millennia contribute to certain traits such as disease susceptibility and height.
Co-author of the study and a scientist actively involved with the research, Joshua Akey, says experts could still identify measurable impacts on gene expression today, even though the last Neanderthal-human mating most likely occurred thousands of years ago.
“Even 50,000 years after the last human-Neanderthal mating, we can still see measurable impacts on gene expression,” said Joshua Akey.
In the past, several pieces of evidence suggested that Neanderthal genetic variants made modern humans more susceptible to several health conditions. However, scientists were unaware which mechanisms were at fault. Even though scientists can gather genetic instructions from fossils, they have been unable to retrieve RNA samples containing valuable genetic information.
Hence, the team of researchers pulled data from the Genotype-Tissue Expression Project which analyzed individuals who had both modern human, as well as Neanderthal versions of the same gene. Joshua Akey, who helped scientists identify a dozen ancient genes linked to increased disease risk in 2016, said the results proved certain Neanderthal DNA sequences still dictate how genes are turned on or off in modern humans.
To make matters clear, the researchers analyzed a specific gene, called ADAMTSL3, which, they determined, was linked to schizophrenia and height. According to the survey, causal mutation was inherited from ancient humans. Details of the recent findings have been published in the journal Cell.
Even though they determined Neanderthal genes still influence the overall development of modern-day humans, the researchers are unaware if Denisovans, another hominid species, contribute to gene expression, too. Hence, more research is needed, the scientists noted in their study.
In the past, Joshua Akey also contributed to other papers on ancient human genes and their association with disease susceptibility in humans today. His past studies showed that non-African people inherited roughly 2 percent of Neanderthal genomes, while individuals of Melanesian ancestry had 2 to 3 percent Denisovan genome content.
Image Source: Wikipedia