Do You Have Neanderthal Ancestors?

The news section of the University of Montreal website reports: Genetic research confirms that non-Africans are part Neanderthal. One way or another this is about you, so let’s dig right in with a few excerpts. The bold font was added by us:

Some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals and is found exclusively in people outside Africa, according to an international team of researchers led by Damian Labuda of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center. The research was published in the July issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

You’ll need a subscription to read more than the abstract, but here’s the paper: An X-Linked Haplotype of Neandertal Origin Is Present Among All Non-African Populations. Let’s read on from the news report:

This confirms recent findings suggesting that the two populations interbred,” says Dr. Labuda. His team places the timing of such intimate contacts and/or family ties early on, probably at the crossroads of the Middle East.

Don’t pass judgment on your ancestors, dear reader. It’s much too late for that. We continue:

Dr. Labuda and his team almost a decade ago had identified a piece of DNA (called a haplotype) in the human X chromosome that seemed different and whose origins they questioned. When the Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010, they quickly compared 6000 chromosomes from all parts of the world to the Neanderthal haplotype. The Neanderthal sequence was present in peoples across all continents, except for sub-Saharan Africa, and including Australia.

Note that we males, with a Y chromosome, have less Neanderthal in us than do females. That’s something to ponder, ladies. Here’s more:

“There is little doubt that this haplotype is present because of mating with our ancestors and Neanderthals. This is a very nice result, and further analysis may help determine more details,” says Dr. Nick Patterson, of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, a major researcher in human ancestry who was not involved in this study.

He thinks it’s “very nice”? We wonder what the creationists will have to say about this. By the way, the news article doesn’t say whether all non-Africans have the Neanderthal sequence in the X chromosome, but the abstract of the published paper discusses that. It says:

Here, we provide evidence of a notable presence (9% overall) of a Neandertal-derived X chromosome segment among all contemporary human populations outside Africa.

If you are so inclined, that allows you to hope that you ain’t no kin to no Neanderthal. One more excerpt from the news article:

So, speculates Dr. Labuda, did these exchanges contribute to our success across the world? “Variability is very important for long-term survival of a species,” says Dr. Labuda. “Every addition to the genome can be enriching.” An interesting match, indeed.

We suspect that the Discoveroids won’t touch this research. All that evolutionary talk about the benefits of variability will confuse them, because they think “Darwinism” means Hitlerian racial purity.

What do we make of these findings? It’s good, interesting research, but it doesn’t mean much at the personal level. We already know that a few million years ago we had ancestors in common with chimps, so identifying some non-Sapiens ancestors from 100,000 years ago shouldn’t change how we think of ourselves.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “Do You Have Neanderthal Ancestors?

  1. Oh, great. More reasons to put the blame on poor Eve. ;)

  2. John Farrell says: “More reasons to put the blame on poor Eve.”

    Verily, her genome bears the mark of Ooogggah.

  3. Creationists generally argue that Neanderthals are not a different species since they can’t admit to more than one type of “created” human. IMHO, they will claim that evidence of interbreeding proves their point. After all, to the spin doctors at AiG and ICR, every scientific discovery proves creationism.

    As for the DI, Casey already addressed Neanderthals in a recent post: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/05/does_giberson_and_collins_nean046541.html in which he adopts the creationist view that they were just another variant of humans.

  4. gjhanna@mail.wsu.edu

    @Ed:the creationist view that they were just another variant of humans.

    But there are many reasons, grounded in science, for this view, that Neanderthals and modern humans are the same species, and I have seen them classified both ways. If they were interbreeding, well that’s almost an open and shut case, isn’t it? Creationists will pervert any fact they get their hands on regardless.

  5. @Gabriel: It seems to me that Neanderthals and modern humans were in the process of becoming separate species. At least before modern humans came out of Africa, the two populations were separated for some period of time, in different environments. Since they were able to interbreed when they came into contact again, they obviously were not yet completely separate species. I think there is some dispute among paleontologists as to whether they should be classified as a distinct species due to their skeletal differences, even if in other ways they were still quite similar. Maybe the genetic evidence will resolve that point.

    Perhaps the nearest analog today would be Pygmy people in Africa, who are genetically quite different from other African peoples and possibly on a divergent evolutionary path – if, that is, they remained reproductively isolated for a long period of time. Neanderthal was further along that path than any humans today, but still, it seems to me that one can see indicators of evolutionary in progress even among modern humans.

  6. @Ed:the creationist view that they were just another variant of humans.

    There is no “the” creationist view:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/compare.html

  7. From the article: “His team places the timing of such intimate contacts and/or family ties early on, probably at the crossroads of the Middle East.”

    So when was “early on”? IIRC if it’s in the ~500K time frame this changes nothing. If it’s closer to 30K then it would be significant. Either way, we’re descended from either Neandertals or their ancestors, with some gene flow between populations likely after the initial split. I wonder how many people-on-the-street, whether or not they accept evolution, know that?

  8. A while back, I saw a letter to the editor in some small paper in which a sweet, good-hearted church lady upholding the Creationist position on things earnestly quoted the learned Dr. Virchow as saying Neanderthals were just normal human beings with rickets and not a separate variety at all. If you’re a connoisseur of Creationist arguments, this is particularly choice. As her authority, she was quoting a man who died in 1902. She was further quoting statements he had made more than forty years before that, when the first Neanderthal remains were discovered and scientists still had very little fossil material to go by. A given individual might have indeed had rickets at some point in his life, as the learned Dr. Virchow perhaps correctly diagnosed, but that would not have accounted for the distinctive, robust skeletal type and brow ridges common to Neanderthals, which became clearer as more remains were discovered. What I wonder is where the church lady got her information — some tract fifty years old with even older quote-mined text recycled from truly ancient Creationist sources? Once in circulation, these things never die!