Modern Humans Mated With Neanderthals-- And Gained Some African Genes, Says New Study

It's become a pretty well-researched fact that ancient homo-sapiens mated with Neanderthals. Scientists now think that this genetic union has made people of East Asian and Eurasian descent more susceptible to medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and LDL cholesterol buildup. But a new study by genomicists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville has unearthed some new discoveries about our ancestors' intimate time with the Neanderthals. Interbreeding with Neanderthals actually replenished some of the African genes that modern humans lost when they left the motherland.

"They left many beneficial variants behind in Africa," evolutionary genomicist, Tony Capra, told Science Mag."Interbreeding with Neanderthals provided an opportunity to get back some of those variants, albeit with many potentially weakly deleterious Neandertal alleles as well."

These Neanderthal genes were a part of the basic ancestral human condition which homo-sapiens lost when they migrated out of Africa. The migration caused a "genetic bottleneck" of sorts, as smaller groups of ancient humans exited the continent. The genetic diversity you'd find in a larger African population all but disappeared.

Researchers found the ancient African genes when they examined the DNA of the over 20,000 people who are a part of the 1000 Genomes Project and Vanderbilt's BioVU database of electronic health records. During their examination, they found chains of Neanderthal chromosomes which shared mutations with genes found in all of the African people they studied. These genes were from the Yoruba, Mende and Esan peoples.

Scientists found close to 50,000 of these shared mutations in the European DNA they studied and close to 60,000 in the genomes of the East-Asians studied, Science Mag reported. In the Eurasian DNA, the mutations - also known as alleles- were right next to the Neanderthal genes which indicates that they developed at the same time, namely when humans mated with Neanderthals thousands of years ago.
As Live Science noted, Neanderthals are the human race's closest extinct relatives. They lived in Europe and Asia between 100,000 to 200,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch. Long thought to be mindless brutes, researchers now believe that they produced tools, buried their dead and used fire. Though they resembled homo-sapiens, Neanderthals were a bit shorter with high cheekbones, strong brow ridges and broad noses.
Do the findings of this new study change the way you feel about human genetics? Let us know in the comments below.


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