There are DNA testing kits that can tell you where in the world your ancestors originated from. National Geographic’s Genographic Project can reveal what percentage of your genome is connected to specific regions of the world. It can also reveal if you have Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestry. It has been said that there are some traits that people have today that were passed down to them from Neanderthal ancestors.
Did you have your wisdom teeth removed when you were young? The majority of people have that procedure done because their mouths aren’t big enough for those “extra” teeth. Instead of growing normally, they get impacted and remain under the gum line.
About 1 percent of Neanderthals had red hair, pale skin, and freckles. Researchers announced in 2007 that Neanderthals had the same distribution of hair and skin color as modern human European populations. In 2008, it was discovered that a gene called MC1R resulted in light skin and freckles.
Another gene that was found in Neanderthal DNA is also involved in skin pigmentation. The gene is called BNC2 Scientists think that modern humans evolved paler skins partly due to genes from Neanderthals. Light skin is more efficient at generating vitamin D from sunlight at higher latitudes. Humans cannot produce vitamin D on their own.
Why do some people today have remnants of Neanderthal genes in their DNA? It is because there was some interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans. The interbreeding occurred between 40,000 and 80,000 years ago.
The two species were at the edge of biologic compatibility. Modern humans and Neanderthals were not the same. Studies have found that present-day people of non-African ancestry trace an average of about 2 percent of their genomes to Neanderthals.
Genome studies have revealed that Neanderthals passed down variants of genes that are involved in type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and smoking addiction. There isn’t enough evidence to determine whether our Neanderthal ancestors suffered from those diseases themselves. Studies have also found large portions of the genome of modern humans that do not include any Neanderthal DNA.
Another interesting gene that was handed down by Neanderthals is called FOXP2. It is thought to play an important role in human speech. So, the next time someone calls you a “Neanderthal”, remember that they wouldn’t be able to call you that if it weren’t for our Neanderthal ancestors!
Image by Matt Celeskey on Flickr.
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