The Test of History
DNA is the molecule that transmits genetic information from generation to generation. Tens of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals crossed paths with Homo sapiens. It is estimated that 2% of this genetic inheritance comes from Neanderthals. This inheritance can be a benefit or a disadvantage that affects health in the present.
Health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, or high blood cholesterol levels may be caused by this genetic inheritance.
This statement comes from a new study published in the journal Science. Scientists performed a complete sequence of a Neanderthal genome. They made a complete genetic map from the bones of a female. The bone remains date back about 52,000 years. The bones of the female were found in the Vindija cave in Croatia.
These genetic traces in the DNA provide clues to the present. The publication suggests that there are some patterns of the new Neanderthal genome with health problems. The new study points out that individuals of Eurasian descent have a Neanderthal genetic heritage. It is estimated at between 1.8% and 2.6% in Eurasians.
This percentage is slightly higher than in previous studies. Other research indicated between 1.5% and 2.1% of Neanderthal genetic inheritance in modern humans.
The genetic sequence of that female along with the genomes of another Neanderthal woman and a multitude of modern humans provide clues about how Neanderthal DNA affects the genetic makeup of humans today.
Neanderthals cannot be blamed for health problems in genetic inheritance. So says Kay Prüfer, leader of the study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. There are several factors that influence genetic inheritance. Their presence in the genes may or may not influence a disease, but can certainly be beneficial. For example, the gene that affects LDL cholesterol is much more protective, according to Prüfer, from the remains found in Vindija.
Low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, is associated with the accumulation of fat in the arteries. Thus, the genetic traces of Neanderthals would provide protections against problems such as heart disease.
For Prüfer, blaming Neardentals for the genetic inheritance in DNA would be “a mistake.”
The Neanderthal DNA for the new genetic sequence comes from an individual named Vindija 33.19. It is the identification of the bone fragments found in the cave.
In the same way, other genetic sequences were made for other individuals. Only the bone remains of Vindija 33.19 were highlighted. It had enough intact DNA for a more detailed and complete analysis.
The researchers were able to distinguish the genetic inheritance of Vindija’s female. Two groups of genes were identified by her parents. Previously, it had been obtained from a 122,000-year-old Neanderthal sample found in Siberia.
Researchers have a compression of how much Neanderthal DNA persists in modern humans and where exactly it comes from. They managed to duplicate the amount of genetic information from Croatian bone fragments.
Michael Dannemann and Janet Kelso give a different explanation. Older genes can explain the physical appearance and even some current behaviors. These researchers point this out in a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. They compared the Altai Neanderthal genes to the genetic data of 112,000 individuals of northern European descent. These data in the Biobank of the United Kingdom.
Dannemann and Kelso found that 15 parts of the Altai Neanderthal genome overlap with sections of the Biobank group’s genomes. These genetic traces determine hair and eye color. They also influence the intensity of sunburn or your preference for sleep time.
So Neanderthal genes are no guarantee of anything about their effects on modern genes.
These researchers hope to make a comparison using Vindija’s new genome with the data of 500,000 people from the Biobank. They hope to find new associations that remain hidden.
As current research seeks to resolve why Neanderthal genes persist in our genome after thousands of years, Miguel Vilar, a National Geographic scientist, concludes that the bone fragments found in Vindija represent a great advance.
So to sum up, you’re likely carrying around a few percent of Neanderthal DNA, but the direct effects on your health are still being studied.