Neanderthals leave their mark on us

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/science/neanderthals-leave-their-mark-on-us.html

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.