According to a new study, modern-day humans may be afflicted by health issues such as depression, heart attacks, possibly even smoking, because of their Neanderthal DNA.
Previous research has already shown that present-day people still present traces of their ancient ancestors in their genetic data. However, this latest study argues that we may be carrying more such genes than initially believed.
The study was led by Janet Kelso and Michael Danneman from the Max Planck Institute for Human Anthropology. It was based on the latest finds detected in the Vindija Cave in Croatia as well as the Mezmaiskaya Cave, which can be found in the Republic of Adygea.
While studying the two, the research team discovered a new genome cluster. After examining it more closely, the team determined that modern-day, non-African living people carry about 1.8 to 2.6 percent of Neanderthal DNA. This is slightly higher than the previous estimates, which placed the percentage in between 1.5 to 2.1.
Neanderthal DNA to Blame For Our Health Problems?
The analyzed genetic data comes from a 52,000 years old female specimen detected in Croatia’s Vindija Cave. This was the source of a significant number of DNA samples.
“Our analyses indicate that Vindija 33.19 was more closely related to the Neanderthals that mixed with the ancestors of present-day humans living outside of sub-Saharan Africa than the previously sequenced Altai Neanderthal,” stated one of the study co-authors, Kay Prüfer.
He then continued by explaining that this led to the identification of 10 to 20 percent more Neanderthal DNA into modern-day humans than before.
It also revealed that this included genetic variants involved in schizophrenia, depression, LDL cholesterol levels, and more.
The team believes that this wide range of health problems might be linked to the Neanderthals’ high interbreeding rates. Research suggests that these lived in small populations of around 3,000 individuals.
This might have caused the small colonies to start interbreeding, which might have also led to the appearance of their health problems and eventual extinction.
Still, the researchers explain that these are, at least at the moment, just theories. They consider that more Neanderthal DNA is needed and has to be analyzed before a conclusion can be reached.
Current study results are available in The American Journal of Human Genetics.
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