Scientists’ understanding of the Neanderthal DNA carried by human groups in Europe and Asia is being furthered by a new examination of ancient genomes. These genetic traces may be relevant to modern medicine.
Thanks to a critical quantity of priceless data, the researchers say their discovery, which was published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, tracks the genetic legacy of the ancient cousins of our species, Homo sapiens, with more accuracy.
Since our ancestors interacted sexually with extinct Stone Age hominins before they vanished 40,000 years ago, the majority of living humans can trace a very small portion of their DNA back to Neanderthals.
The Age-Old Relatives
The cause of Neanderthal DNA being found in human populations in Europe and Asia has been identified by a recent investigation.
Scientists’ knowledge of the ancient genomes that might be relevant to modern medicine has increased as a result of the study, which was published in the Science Advances journal. Using the necessary quantity of meaningful data, it more accurately traces the genetic heritage of our species’ long-standing relatives.
“So what’s puzzling is that an area where we’ve never found any Neanderthal remains, there’s more Neanderthal DNA,” said study coauthor Mathias Currat, a senior lecturer of genetics and evolution at the University of Geneva.
Because of the ancient sexual interactions between our ancestors and the Stone Age hominins, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago, many modern humans have a minor percentage of Neanderthal DNA. East Asian groups, however, contain slightly more Neanderthal DNA in their genomes than other ethnicities.
Scientists have long been perplexed by this distinction because Neanderthal remains have been widely discovered throughout Europe and the Middle East but not in Central Asia east of the Altai Mountains.
The Neanderthal Genome
A team lead by Dr. David Reich, professor of genetics and human evolutionary biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, assembled a database of more than 4,000 ancient genomes from Europe and Asia for the study.
For samples older than 20,000 years, the researchers discovered that the genomes of Stone Age Homo sapiens who lived as hunter-gatherers in Europe after Neanderthals went extinct carried a little larger fraction of Neanderthal DNA than those who resided in Asia.
The research team came to the conclusion that a later period, most likely during the Neolithic transition, when farming started to replace hunting and gathering as a way of life between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago, must have contributed to the current pattern of a higher percentage of Neanderthal ancestry in Asian populations compared with those in Europe.