Have You Hugged a Neanderthal Today? Probably!

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on July 23rd, 2011

Your ancestors probably had sex with Neanderthals — which makes you part-Neanderthal. Now get over it.

If your heritage is non-African, you are part Neanderthal, according to a new study in the July issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution. Discovery News has been reporting on human/Neanderthal interbreeding for some time now, so this latest research confirms earlier findings.

Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal’s Department of Pediatrics and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center conducted the study with his colleagues. They determined some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals, but only in people of non-African heritage.

“This confirms recent findings suggesting that the two populations interbred,” Labuda was quoted as saying in a press release. His team believes most, if not all, of the interbreeding took place in the Middle East, while modern humans were migrating out of Africa and spreading to other regions.

The ancestors of Neanderthals left Africa about 400,000 to 800,000 years ago. They evolved over the millennia mostly in what are now France, Spain, Germany and Russia. They went extinct, or were simply absorbed into the modern human population, about 30,000 years ago.

Neanderthals possessed the gene for language and had sophisticated music, art and tool craftsmanship skills, so they must have not been all that unattractive to modern humans at the time.

“In addition, because our methods were totally independent of Neanderthal material, we can also conclude that previous results were not influenced by contaminating artifacts,” Labuda said.

This work goes back to nearly a decade ago, when Labuda and his colleagues identified a piece of DNA, called a haplotype, in the human X chromosome that seemed different. They questioned its origins.

Fast forward to 2010, when the Neanderthal genome was sequenced. The researchers could then compare the haplotype to the Neanderthal genome as well as to the DNA of existing humans. The scientists found that the sequence was present in people across all continents, except for sub-Saharan Africa, and including Australia.

“There is little doubt that this haplotype is present because of mating with our ancestors and Neanderthals,” said Nick Patterson of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University. Patterson did not participate in the latest research. He added, “This is a very nice result, and further analysis may help determine more details.”

David Reich, a Harvard Medical School geneticist, added, “Dr. Labuda and his colleagues were the first to identify a genetic variation in non-Africans that was likely to have come from an archaic population. This was done entirely without the Neanderthal genome sequence, but in light of the Neanderthal sequence, it is now clear that they were absolutely right!”

The modern human/Neanderthal combo likely benefitted our species, enabling it to survive in harsh, cold regions that Neanderthals previously had adapted to.

“Variability is very important for long-term survival of a species,” Labuda concluded. “Every addition to the genome can be enriching.”

Source: Discovery News, All Non-Africans Part Neanderthal, Genetics Confirm
Analysis by Jennifer Viegas

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

7 Responses to “Have You Hugged a Neanderthal Today? Probably!”

  1. Cryptoraptor responds:

    Many people of Sub-Saharan African descent living in the US have VERY significant Caucasian ancestry, including the President, Louis Farrakhan, Rapper Ice T, Halle Berry, Colin Powell, Alicia Keyes, Beyonce, etc. 10% of African-Americans have over 50% Caucasian ancestry.

    The AVERAGE African American, depending on the study cited, has between 18-30% white ancestry.

    So, most people in the US, including most African Americans, DO have Neanderthal ancestry as do non-African-Americans.

    It is more accurate to say that most Sub-Saharan Africans native to Africa do not have Neanderthal ancestry (according to the latest science info).

  2. flame821 responds:

    It does sound interesting, but I think we need a lot more studies done to confirm some of the claims. Don’t forget sequencing is in its infancy and while I agree this does make sense and the initial results are promising I’m not going to get carried away until I see more independent results to back it up.

    The saddest part for me is the actual thread about this on Discovery. I’m on their RSS feed and I can tell you how quickly this turned into a racial argument and that is the last thing we need as a species. Our populations are exploding, resources becoming scarcer, environmental pressures increasing every day. I don’t want to see preliminary science (or any science) be turned into a wedge. As humans we need to work together if we want any decent chance of survival.

    Its sad that some of us are full of curiosity and hope regarding finding possible unknown cousins of the Primate Family, while other people are looking for ANY reason to exclude their own brothers and sisters from the family tree.

  3. Redrose999 responds:

    Heh, pretty darned cool actually. It’s sad people will be pissy about it. They need to get over it.

  4. Redrose999 responds:

    I also want to add, I hug mine every day. All five of them! 🙂 And the poodle too!

  5. darkhb responds:

    Ah, now I know why I can’t stand hot humid weather like we’ve had in the Northeast all week; why I like it cool and love snow – it’s my Neanderthal genes!

  6. John Kirk responds:

    This is what the Russians have been saying for ages. However, they also have claimed that there have been recent interbreeding between homo sapiens and Neanderthals. Hence Zana.

    Neanderthals are from the genus Homo, so like us, they are people and it is not surprising that some of us descend from them. All you have to do is look at my browridge and know that they are in our bloodlines.

  7. Massachusetts responds:

    I feel I’ve been cheated. Where’s my massive upper body development/super strength that should come with my Neanderthal genes? Grrr. Argh.

    Seriously though, it makes you wonder. I worked out with some guys in college who were just wayyyy stronger. Not jocks, not athletes, just friends (one a math major) who were benching maybe 100 pounds more than me even though we worked out together and did the same kinds of exercises.

    I wonder if they had more Neanderthal genes in that particular area than me? There’s always going to be genetic variation, but since we now know we have Neanderthal DNA in our genomes, and they were, from the archeological record, known to be rather pumped and powerful…

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