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Neanderthal DNA more common than thought

WASHINGTON--Next time you call someone a Neanderthal, better look in a mirror. Many of the genes that help determine most people's skin and hair are more Neanderthal than not, according to two new studies that look at the DNA fossils hidden in the modern human genome.

About 50,000 years ago, modern day humans migrated out of Africa north to Europe and East Asia and met up with furrow-browed Neanderthals that had been in the colder climates for more than 100,000 years. Some of the two species mated. And then the Neanderthals died off as a species — except for what's left inside of us.

Scientists isolated the parts of the modern human genetic blueprint that still contain Neanderthal remnants. Overall, it's barely more than 1 percent, said two studies released Wednesday in the journals Nature and Science.

However, in some places, such as the DNA related to the skin, the genetic instructions are as much as 70 percent Neanderthal and in other places there's virtually nothing from the species that's often portrayed as brutish cavemen.

The difference between where Neanderthal DNA is plentiful and where it's absent may help scientists understand what in our genome “makes humans human,” said University of Washington genome scientist Joshua Akey, lead author of the paper in Science.

The studies mostly examined the genomes of people whose ancestors left Africa at some point. People whose ancestors have all stayed in Africa have almost no Neanderthal DNA because there was little interbreeding.

Harvard University researcher Sriram Sankararaman, the lead author of the Nature study, said the place where Neanderthal DNA seemed to have the most influence in the modern human genome has to do with skin and hair. Akey said those instructions are as much as 70 percent Neanderthal.

“We're more Neanderthal than not in those genes,” Akey said.

However, Sankararaman cautions that scientists don't yet know just what the Neanderthal DNA dictates in our skin and hair.

Sarah Tishkoff, a professor of genetics and biology at the University of Pennsylvania who was not part of either study, theorized that the Neanderthal DNA probably helped the darker humans out of Africa cope with the cooler less bright north. Living in the cooler Europe means less ultraviolet light and less vitamin D from the sun. Darker skin blocks more of those needed rays, so lighter skin is more advantageous in the north and it seems that humans adopted that Neanderthal adaptation, she said.

Another area where we have more Neanderthal DNA is parts of genetic codes that have to do with certain immune system functions, Sankararaman said. Again, scientists can't say more than that these Neanderthal genes seem connected to certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and Crohn's disease and lupus, but they are there.

Tiskhoff and Akey said one of the most interesting parts in comparing human and Neanderthal genomes is where we don't see any caveman influence. That, Tiskhoff said, is “what makes us uniquely human” and those regions of genetic code “you just can't mess with.”

January 31, 2014    fletxallibre@
After all, what is the difference between the life that is in a cell, a chimp, a Neanderthal or modern homo sapiens? Do not come and vanishes in the same way, in one breath alone? Isn’t life a single indivisible movement, an information flow that stores and changes from a common ancestor? Or is there a unique quality in some place of the tree of life, a qualitative leap detached from all evolutionary processes and unrelated to the rest of life? If so, is it the same leap that the human language makes when differentiating between life itself and the rest of the universe? Also between human beings and the rest of animals, between food and eaters, health and disease, between life and death?
January 31, 2014    dregstudios@
Don’t expect this “science” to sneak its way into the classrooms here in the South. Our Lord and Savior made it very clear there is no way we evolved from these savages. Tennessee has passed the Monkey Law legislation which ensures teachers can challenge these so-called scientists and their twisted research funded by the liberals in Washington.
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This Jan. 8, 2003 file photo shows a reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human version of a skeleton, left, on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

(AP)

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