"Homo neanderthalensis Le Moustier Skull" by Johannes Maximilian / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The Neanderthal DNA you carry may have surprisingly little impact on your looks, moods

Apr 22, 2020

By Ann Gibbons

If you think you got your freckles, red hair, or even narcolepsy from a Neanderthal in your family tree, think again. People around the world do carry traces of Neanderthals in their genomes. But a study of tens of thousands of Icelanders finds their Neanderthal legacy had little or no impact on most of their physical traits or disease risk.

Paleogeneticists realized about 10 years ago that most Europeans and Asians inherited 1% to 2% of their genomes from Neanderthals. And Melanesians and Australian Aboriginals get another 3% to 6% of their DNA from Denisovans, Neanderthal cousins who ranged across Asia 50,000 to 200,000 years ago or so.

A steady stream of studies suggested gene variants from these archaic peoples might raise the risk of depression, blood clotting, diabetes, and other disorders in living people. The archaic DNA may also be altering the shape of our skulls; boosting our immune systems; and influencing our eye color, hair color, and sensitivity to the Sun, according to scans of genomic and health data in biobanks and medical databases.

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