Written by: Lisa Stelzner
Primary Source: Lisa Stelzner
Neanderthals shared a common ancestor with humans about 600,000 years ago, and didn’t go extinct until 30,000 years ago. Scientists have been able to reconstruct most of the Neanderthal genome using fossil fragments, and found that humans must have interbred with them in the past, since some DNA is similar between Neanderthals and modern-day Europeans and Asians. When humans moved out of Africa into Europe, they encountered Neanderthals there, and Neanderthals had certain genes that are still found in modern humans because they were evolutionarily beneficial in adapting to our environment. We only know broadly that some of these genes relate to our hair and skin, and are currently common in non-Africans. Others help with reducing risks from certain diseases such as lupus and diabetes.
Keep your eye out for results from future studies that compare Neanderthal DNA to hundreds of thousands of humans instead of several hundred humans (such as past studies have used). This research is already underway in the U.K.
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