A new study reports that the DNA some humans inherited from our ancient ancestors the Neanderthals is still influencing physical traits such as height, diseases developed and how the immune system functions in some modern humans. Neanderthal DNA was inherited by early humans of non-African descent whose ancestors mated with Neanderthals around 50,000 years ago, and this genetic legacy still has control of some people’s genes.
According to the study, the influence of Neanderthal DNA diminished more quickly in the parts of the body which evolved faster during this time period, particularly the brain. This suggests that when our human ancestors acquired the ability for problem-solving and sophisticated language, mating with Neanderthals rapidly declined. However, Neanderthal control of some human genes continues, with both positive and negative results.
The study is the result of the analysis of the DNA taken from 214 people in the United States, with a focus on people of European descent. The team of experts at the University of Washington in Seattle compared the modern DNA with DNA from Neanderthals and was able to determine that fragments of Neanderthal genes had survived and remained active in 52 separate types of human tissue.