Were Neanderthals a sub-species of modern humans? New research says no

Nov 24, 2014

By Phys Org

In an extensive, multi-institution study led by SUNY Downstate Medical Center, researchers have identified new evidence supporting the growing belief that Neanderthals were a distinct species separate from modern humans (Homo sapiens), and not a subspecies of modern humans.

The study looked at the entire nasal complex of Neanderthals and involved researchers with diverse academic backgrounds. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the research also indicates that the Neanderthal nasal complex was not adaptively inferior to that of, and that the Neanderthals’ extinction was likely due to competition from modern humans and not an inability of the Neanderthal nose to process a colder and drier climate.

Samuel Márquez, PhD, associate professor and co-discipline director of gross anatomy in SUNY Downstate’s Department of Cell Biology, and his team of specialists published their findings on the Neanderthal nasal complex in the November issue ofThe Anatomical Record, which is part of a special issue on The Vertebrate Nose: Evolution, Structure, and Function (now online).

They argue that studies of the Neanderthal nose, which have spanned over a century and a half, have been approaching this anatomical enigma from the wrong perspective. Previous work has compared Neanderthal nasal dimensions to modern human populations such as the Inuit and modern Europeans, whose nasal complexes are adapted to cold and temperate climates.

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8 comments on “Were Neanderthals a sub-species of modern humans? New research says no

  • @OP link – Were Neanderthals a sub-species of modern humans? New research says no

    “Márquez and colleagues have carried out a most provocative and intriguing investigation of a very significant complex in the Neanderthal skull that has all too frequently been overlooked.” Dr. Tattersall hopes that “with luck, this research will stimulate future research demonstrating once and for all that Homo neanderthalensis deserves a distinctive identity of its own.”

    This OP title hinges on the imprecise nature of the term “species”.
    Technically two evolving branches become separate species, when they can no longer breed to produce fertile offspring, but nature is not as clear cut as that.

    Geographically diverging branches drift apart gradually, as intermediates become less well adapted or go extinct, with diminishing fertility in hybrid offspring. Consequently, there are commonly found sub-species which are significantly different, but which can still inter-breed.

    Neanderthal DNA has been found in populations of modern humans, so the species – subspecies argument, is largely arbitrary and semantic.

    Lions and tigers CAN inter breed, but the wild populations are too widely geographically separated to do so, and are therefore regarded as separate species. With very different life-styles, they continue to diverge in the wild.

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  • How can neanderthals be a sub species of us, when they evolved long before we did. Surely, if anything it would be the other way around. I always thought we were two sub species, hom.sap.sap and hom.sap.neand of the ever growing human family of species.

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  • 3
    Light Wave says:

    They didn’t evolve long before us but at roughly the same time….they in Europe and we in Africa for up to 200,000 years …we both share an ancestor thought to be Heidelbergensis…ancient species are still human just not Sapien….

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  • Indeed the boundaries of a ‘species’ are a lot blurrier in real-life than we would sometimes make it seem. It is more about genetic compatibility than clearly defined boundaries. Lions and Tigers are perhaps right on the cusp of being considered separate species, as they can cross-breed (to create Ligers and Tigons), however their offspring are not fertile. AFAIK the male of the hybrids are always sterile. The female hybrids are sometimes fertile and can have offspring with a male of one of the parent species (Lion or Tiger). However these offspring generally have health issues. The hybrids (Ligers and Tigons) cannot have offspring with their own hybrid kind, hence they are defined as separate species.

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  • 7
    Light Wave says:

    Early Sapiens …the ones who left Africa mated with Neanderthal before they died out leaving relic Neanderthal DNA in most Sapiens outside of Sub Saharan Africa….even Aboriginal Australians

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  • Along similar lines: –


    Altitude adaptation in Tibetans caused by introgression of Denisovan-like DNA
    As modern humans migrated out of Africa, they encountered many new environmental conditions, including greater temperature extremes, different pathogens and higher altitudes. These diverse environments are likely to have acted as agents of natural selection and to have led to local adaptations. One of the most celebrated examples in humans is the adaptation of Tibetans to the hypoxic environment of the high-altitude Tibetan plateau1, 2, 3. A hypoxia pathway gene, EPAS1, was previously identified as having the most extreme signature of positive selection in Tibetans4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and was shown to be associated with differences in haemoglobin concentration at high altitude. Re-sequencing the region around EPAS1 in 40 Tibetan and 40 Han individuals, we find that this gene has a highly unusual haplotype structure that can only be convincingly explained by introgression of DNA from Denisovan or Denisovan-related individuals into humans. Scanning a larger set of worldwide populations, we find that the selected haplotype is only found in Denisovans and in Tibetans, and at very low frequency among Han Chinese. Furthermore, the length of the haplotype, and the fact that it is not found in any other populations, makes it unlikely that the haplotype sharing between Tibetans and Denisovans was caused by incomplete ancestral lineage sorting rather than introgression. Our findings illustrate that admixture with other hominin species has provided genetic variation that helped humans to adapt to new environments.

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