Saturday February 13, 2016

Neanderthal genes leave unhealthy legacy

Neanderthal reconstructions from the American Museum of Natural History

Neanderthal reconstructions from the American Museum of Natural History (Martin MeissnerAssociated Press)

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When the Neanderthal genome was decoded several years ago, from DNA preserved in fossil bones, one of the surprising revelations was that most of the modern European and Asian human populations had a little bit of Neanderthal DNA in them. Between 1 and 4 percent of the genome of non-African modern humans is from the Neanderthals.

Dr. Tony Capra, a biologist from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and his colleagues, have been investigating just what these Neanderthal genes are doing. By comparing the Neanderthal genome to a large database of medical records, including modern human genomes, he's found correlations between Neanderthal genes and several modern health issues, including skin disorders, blood clots, immune system function, and psychiatric problems.

Because medical records tend to record problems, rather than benefits, this comparison really only reveals the dark side of Neanderthal genes. It will take further study to understand what positive contributions Neanderthal DNA might have made to modern humans.

Related Links

- Paper in Science
- Vanderbilt University release
- Science magazine news article
Discovery news story
- The Atlantic story