Skip to comments.Find Your Inner (Genetic) Neanderthal
Posted on 06/10/2013 11:43:32 AM PDT by mbarker12474
Find Your Inner Neanderthal
Published by ScottH under Ancestry
They had bigger brains and muscles, but for some reason Neanderthals thick boned humans who thrived for hundreds of thousands of years in Europe and parts of Asia died out about 30,000 years ago, while we modern humans survived.
Why we, Homo sapiens, flourished and our Homo neandertalensis cousins died out is an evolutionary mystery that biologist are trying to unravel.
In the last few years, scientists have uncovered clues not just to what the lives of Neanderthals may have been like, but also clues that tell us more about what it means to be a modern human.
Most interesting of all is that, although Neanderthals disappeared long ago, their DNA lives on in all non-African people.
23andMe now offers a lab allowing customers to connect with their prehistoric roots. The lab, developed by one of our resident computational biologists, Eric Durand, compares two modern human genomes with the Neanderthal genome to determine what percentage of your own DNA is Neanderthal. Before coming to 23andMe, Eric worked on the first draft of the Neanderthal genome and on analysis of the Denisova genome, another of our early human cousins. The method we use to determine the percent of Neanderthal DNA a person has is similar to the one Eric helped develop while working at the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. See Erics white paper for a technical explanation of the methodology.
Most people have Neanderthal DNA, on average about 2.5 percent, but there are outliers, who have much more.
What it means to have a higher percentage of Neanderthal DNA whether youre hairier, or brutish or short, for instance isnt known. There are some theories, however, of how Neanderthals contributed to modern humans, including that they gave us some sort of hybrid vigor, according to Peter Parham, a geneticist at Stanford University School of Medicine.
At the very least research appears to support the theory that at some point during the tens of thousands of years Neanderthals and modern humans lived side by side, a few of them may have shacked up.
Or as Elizabeth Kolbert deftly phrased it in the New Yorker: Before modern humans replaced the Neanderthals, they had sex with them.
Provocative to say the least, but its actually an idea thats floated around for some time. Anybody who ever read Jean M. Auels saucy prehistoric romance books beginning with Clan of the Cave Bear could tell you that. But the notion that modern humans and Neanderthals got way past first base, hooked up and even had children together still doesnt tell us much about what it means now to have a smidgen of Neanderthal in your DNA.
Svante Pääbo, the Swedish geneticist behind the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, explains that from an evolutionary point of view comparing the modern humans genome to that of the Neanderthal has great value.
Humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor with chimpanzees our next closest mammalian relative that goes back between five and seven million years. Comparing the human genome with that of chimps tells us a lot about evolution over millions of years. But by having the Neanderthal genome sequence now 55 percent completed and comparing that with modern humans, we can learn much more about evolutionary changes over the last 30,000 years.
It may be that the DNA of other prehistoric human groups also are intermixed in our own DNA. Much like with Neanderthals, scientists extracted ancient DNA from the skeletal remains of another ancient cousin known as the Denisovans. The remains a finger bone were found in a cave in Siberia and showed that Denisovans were cousins of Neanderthals. They lived in Asia and disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Their DNA is found today in Melanesians.
As for the comparisons with the Neanderthals, so far, Pääbos team has found almost 80 genetic variants that are unique to modern humans. The function of these variants could help us understand what distinguishes us from Neanderthal.
Apparently Pääbos work has also resonated beyond the scientific community as well. At a talk late last year, Pääbo told a group of neuroscientists that for months hes been keeping emails from people who have claimed that they were Neanderthal and should be included in his study. Several women have written to him volunteering their husbands as subjects for study.
But can you imagine the delicate emotional issues that will arise when we discover that some categories / cultures /races of people of people are more related or less related to Neanderthals? Yikes!
My high school football coach wasn’t as big but had the same sloping forehead and massive hair body...
I was thinking of that guy when I read this...
From all I’ve read about Neanderthals I can guess why they died off - they were family based and lived in small family units so always found themselves outnumbered by hordes of Homos. I’d even postulate that we are the lesser species and would still be in the iron age if some crossbreeding with the superior Neanderthal line hadn’t given us a needed boost.
My guess is we interbred to the extent that we became one.
Its very interesting; but this story? Is it supposed to be a joke?
I only say that because based upon what I’ve read and studied it appears that cross-breeding would not have worked at all.
I read an article that said Neanderthals were smarter than the early Homo Sapiens but lacked the skills of making and using of weapons. If they were smarter I would have thought they would be able to adapt.
Funny, most papers you read attribute our (Homo Sapiens) survival to being smarter, but I'm not convinced that was necessarily the case. Perhaps the Neanderthals succumbed to a particular disease that Homo Sapiens were able to survive. With their bigger brains, Neanderthals could have been smarter than Homo Sapiens. The areas where Neanderthals lived and interbred are more developed and have more advanced cultures than those that had no contact. Sub Saharan Africans have no Neanderthal genes and also are the least developed societies.
I hope nobody brings up the Denisovans. Then this thread might really get interesting.
I can believe it. I used to see men on the subway who looked like Neanderthals, complete with hairy hands and forearms.
Strangely enough, I cannot recall seeing a woman with those features (not that I would expect hairy hands and forearms on a woman); I have reference to the shape of face and skull.
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I had my genomic analysis done by 23andme a few years ago. I am 2.7% Neanderthal. The group that I was put in (northern Euro) averages 2.6%.
We used genetic testing in the case of my grandfather to determine once and for all his actual degree of Native American ancestry.
We also were able to track down his Y-chromosome and related male lineage, identifying the lineage despite a last name change five generations ago - thus identifying that ancestor’s father through a common male descendant.
>> We used genetic testing in the case of my grandfather to determine once and for all his actual degree of Native American ancestry <<
I’m curious to know what you found as to his percentage. Can you tell us?
And by the way, almost all of us Southerners seem to have vague family legends about N. A. ancestry. But when we take DNA tests, that kind of ancestry almost never shows up.
The problem here apparently is not that our family legends are usually incorrect, but rather that the N. A. is so many generations in the past that its percentage in our DNA is simply too small to be detected.
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I wrote this article to discuss the genealogical information we learned from genetic testing, and reviewed the two genetics companies we worked with.