From Colin Barras at New Scientist:
Where there’s fire there’s often smoke – which might have been bad news for Neanderthals and other ancient hominins. Modern humans carry a genetic mutation that reduces our sensitivity to cancer-causing chemicals found in wood smoke. But Neanderthals and Denisovans apparently lacked the mutation.
The team inserted human and Neanderthal versions of the AHR gene into animal cells in the lab and examined how the cells responded when exposed to these carcinogens. The Neanderthal version proved to be far more likely to cause the production of enzymes that induce a toxic effect.
“We were surprised that the differences between the two were so large,” says Perdew. For some compounds there was a 1000-fold difference in the toxic response.
That raises the intriguing idea that, at some point in the past, our species picked up the AHR mutation and so became far better than other hominins at coping with the toxic effects of wood smoke. But Perdew stresses this is only a possibility. More.
This theory is possibly 27 minutes in the queue with: Neanderthals were inbred, A different theory puts it down to the fact that Neanderthals chewed more. And another one has it that they did not eat enough rabbits. A paleo-psychoanalyst claims they had large eyes and might have been weird loners. And, oh yes, of course, climate change killed them.
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?
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