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Neanderthals and humans interbred

New study leaves little room for doubt – Neanderthals and humans interbred

In recent months, numerous DNA studies of ancient humans have all converged on one conclusion – Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred.  While for many this may seem unsurprising or even obvious, we must remember that until fairly recently the predominant scientific theory was that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens never came in contact with each other, let alone interbreed.  Science is also only just beginning to dispel the myth that Neanderthals were primitive cave men. But for some, the idea that up to 20% of Neanderthal genes are still present in the human race is still very hard to swallow. However, a new study , which utilised a more superior method of testing, leaves little room for doubt – many human beings alive today are the product of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interbreeding.

The new research published in the April 2014 issue of the journal Genetics has utilised a technique that involves partitioning genomes into short blocks to calculate the statistical likelihood of distant or recent interbreeding and tracing back the biological ties that exist between humans and Neanderthals.  The method can more confidently detect the genetic signatures of interbreeding than previous approaches, and has further enabled the researchers to distinguish between two possible scenarios – the first is that Neanderthals occasionally interbred with modern humans after they migrated out of Africa, the second is that the humans who left Africa evolved from the same ancestral subpopulation that had previously given rise to Neanderthals.

“Although there has been mounting evidence for genetic exchange between modern humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia from a number of recent genetic studies, it has been difficult to rule out ancestral structure in Africa,” said study co-author Dr Konrad Lohse, a population geneticist at the University of Edinburgh. "Our approach can distinguish between two subtly different scenarios”.

The researchers found that evolution from the same ancestral population could be completely ruled out: “Our analysis allows us to conclusively reject a model of ancestral structure in Africa and instead reveals strong support for Neanderthal admixture in Eurasia at a higher rate (3.4% - 7.3%) than suggested previously,” wrote the study authors. Furthermore, the results demonstrate that “secondary admixture from Neanderthals into Eurasians took place after the expansion of modern humans out of Africa”.

The same method will be useful in other studies of interbreeding where limited samples are available. "Because the method makes maximum use of the information contained in individual genomes, it is particularly exciting for revealing the history of species that are rare or extinct," said Lohse.

"This work is important because it closes a hole in the argument about whether Neanderthals interbred with humans. And the method can be applied to understanding the evolutionary history of other organisms, including endangered species," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics.

By April Holloway

Comments

The human male has a sordid history of sexual interference with females of other races, so it's no surprise that they would get their rocks off with Neanderthal females, regardless of whether they consented.

Urlybird: You sound a little hostile towards males in general, but I will try not to draw too many conclusions... Your comment assumes one thing; that the DNA passed in one direction. There are other possibilities. !.) There COULD be consensual intermingling as males and females had certain roles to the relationship and there may have been shortages periodically of one sex or another in both races. 2.) Neanderthal males may have forced themselves on homo sapien females 3.) There ARE women in the world with a sexuality and curiosity about them that makes them seek out and mate or marry males of other cultures or races for a variety of reasons... And lastly, Human females can be as sordid as their male counterparts. They can employ devices , livestock, seduction of unlikely and nonpermanent individuals to "get their rocks off" now and then. Get over your anger and think outside the box. No matter how it happened, it's an exciting discovery.

I  understand the need for you to defend the male gender, but we are talking about prehistoric times here. Although your alternative suggestions are possible, they are unlikely. In studying mankind throughout known history, one can deduce that the hunter male was the sexually dominant gender and more likely to spread himself around, so to speak. It still goes on today in war-torn countries. Your opinions are more attuned to modern western society.

I'm not angry or hostile, by the way. Just stating the obvious. I'm more inclined to sugget that there was extra-terrestrial intervention. That's thinking more outside the box than most, wouldn't you agree?

As I understand it, mitochondrial DNA studies suggest that most parings were between male neanderthal and modern women. Assuming their offspring are viable, do you think a 150 pound modern man could overpower and rape the more robust 180 pound neanderthal woman? it also seams likely that sex was used to curry the favor of larger more established populations or used as a trade commodity as it is with both "modern" men and bonobo apes. The oldest profession may well be an accurate statement. I am just curious why would you assign,"guilt" to modern man and not to neanderthal who quit obviously did more of the sexual adventurism?

And let’s face it we all know the myriad variations of human behavior, so no surprise that either male or female could have been the ‘originators’ of the contact – nature tends to look for mates with divergent dna, and maybe neanderthals were considered more beautiful by some humans, you cannot tell what the cultural beliefs were from skeletons after all ! Bones thru noses were a plus at one time !   I think that our attitudes are changing which allows us to consider ideas that would have been no-no in prior years. 

Veronica

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