Fat in Europeans Related to that of Neandertals

This article explains the findings of a recently published research that found that Europeans inherited three times as many lipid catabolism genes from Neandertals than Asians did. This is a development that has come out of the extensive comparison of Neandertal and modern human DNA that ensued after researchers at the Max Planck Institute sequenced the Neandertal genome. Researchers have found that Neandertals interbred with modern humans at least once in the past 60,000 years, before their extinction 30,000 years ago. This interbreeding occurred after the decent from Africa; so, traces of Neandertal DNA are not found in Africa DNA, but have been detected in European and Asian DNA—an average of about 1-4%. There is even evidence that different populations of living humans inherited Neandertal genes that may cause diseases like diabetes and Crohn’s, alter immune function, and affect the function of keratin.

According to this research, Northern Europeans have differences in fatty acid composition and in enzymes that metabolize fat in the brain that are traced to Neandertal DNA. Kaitovich and other researchers involved with this study are not sure how these differences affect the brain, but they “think it’s a very strong effect with very profound physiological changes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see it in the brain tissue.”

Since the fatty acid genes are found in a much higher percentage in Northern Europeans than in Asians, Khaitovich hypothesizes that they were advantageous for modern humans in adapting to colder environments. These findings suggest that one type of human could take an “evolutionary shortcut” by inheriting an advantageous gene from another group, such as the Neandertals, through interbreeding. However, now, these genes are thought to be somewhat disadvantageous for contemporary humans as they are associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

I do not have a background in Anthropology, so I was surprised to learn about the interbreeding of Neandertals and modern humans. Others may be able to provide more insight for the background of this research. I am interested to see what other implications about human health arise from further investigation of these ancient genes.

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