A recent study found that genes inherited from our ancestors are linked with obesity, quitting smoking, blood clotting, skin damage, and even depression.
Researchers from Vanderbilt University compared the genes of 28,000 people with information from their health records. Zeroing in on sections of DNA known to have been passed down from Neanderthals revealed strong links with a range of conditions, including risk of nicotine addiction and obesity.
Between one and six per cent of the DNA carried by people from Europe, and much of Asia, has been inherited from Neanderthals or their ancient early human cousins the Denisovans.
Indeed, people in East Asia carry up to 15 to 30 per cent more of this prehistoric early human DNA than Europeans.
This has helped to confirm theories by anthropologists that our own species – Homo sapiens – interbred with these rival species as they spread out of Africa from around 60,000 years ago.
Researcher John Capra from the Vanderbilt University said: ‘Over the past ten years or so, there’s been a revolution in our ability to read DNA from ancient fossils and this has revealed some amazing things about recent human evolutionary history.
‘One of the most striking is that our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals about 50,000 years ago and there is still a remnant of that interbreeding in many modern humans living today.’
Dr Capra’s analysis builds on a groundbreaking study from 2010 which showed that we have rather a lot in common with Neanderthals, with up to four per cent of the DNA in modern Asians and Europeans coming from our closest relative. It is thought the interbreeding occurred around 50,000 years ago, after modern humans left Africa and joined Neanderthals in Europe and Asia.
The two lived alongside each other for thousands of years, before Neanderthals became extinct around 30,000 years ago, likely because they were outwitted by the newcomers’ superior
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