Neanderthal DNA Has Subtle, But Signficant, Impact on Traits of Modern Humans

Since 2010, scientists have known that people of Eurasian origin have inherited anywhere from 1 to 4 percent of their DNA from Neanderthals. The discovery spawned a number of hypotheses about the effects these genetic variants may have on the physical characteristics or behavior of modern humans, ranging from skin color to heightened allergies to fat metabolism. Now, the first study that directly compares Neanderthal DNA in the genomes of a significant population of adults of European ancestry with their clinical records confirms that this archaic genetic legacy has a subtle, but significant, impact on modern human biology. "Our main finding is that Neanderthal DNA does influence clinical traits in modern humans: We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric, and reproductive diseases," said John Capra, Ph.D., senior author of the paper "The Phenotypic Legacy of Admixture Between Modern Humans and Neandertals" published in the February 12, 2016 issue of Science. The evolutionary geneticist is an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. A Science commentary story accompanies the research article. Some of the associations that Dr. Capra and his colleagues found confirm previous hypotheses. One example is the proposal that Neanderthal DNA affects cells called keratinocytes that help protect the skin from environmental damage such as ultraviolet radiation and pathogens.
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