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Neanderthal DNA an advantage to modern humans?


From Anna Azvolinsky at The Scientist:

The human genome is peppered with the DNA of extinct hominins—Neanderthals and Denisovans—as a result of interbreeding with early Homo sapiens. According to some reports, the Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA retained at specific loci, such as immune system-related genes, likely conferred adaptive advantages against infectious microorganisms. In a study published last month (November 29) in Genome Biology, researchers provide strong evidence that the Neanderthal DNA present at one such locus within the modern human genome is likely the result of positive selection.

The study authors also suggest that this Neanderthal haplotype is not unique to Neanderthals. Rather, interbreeding reintroduced the beneficial genetic variant present in early African humans that had been lost during the out-of-Africa migration and population bottleneck.

A further comparison of OAS sequences among human populations revealed that this OAS Neanderthal allele is found in about 60 percent of individuals in Africa. However, outside of Africa, it is only found in individuals that harbor the Neanderthal haplotype. Based on this evidence, “we think that this allele was lost during the out-of-Africa migration and that the Neanderthal haplotype resurrected this allele after the bottleneck following the human migration out of Africa,” said Barreiro.

“An important point raised by this study is that instances of archaic adaptation are being missed by existing approaches that are not sensitive to the features of these alleles,” wrote Sankararaman. More.

Interesting work, but note the Darwinese title of the article: “Natural Selection Kept Neanderthal DNA in Modern Humans”. In short, we are here today either because of or in spite of that DNA (“natural selection” accommodates both). A major insight indeed. The article goes on to argue for an actual benefit conferred by the genes. But putting it so clearly would not be keeping Darwinism alive.

See also: New York Times: Why did we get the Neanderthals so wrong?


Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents

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