Neanderthals are still affecting what illnesses some people develop, how tall they are and how their immune systems work, despite being extinct for 40,000 years.
This is thanks to the Neanderthal DNA those of non-African descent inherited from ancestors who mated with our cousins some 50,000 years ago. A study has now revealed how this genetic legacy is still controlling how some people’s genes work, with possible consequences for their health.
Tellingly, the Neanderthal influence has waned fastest in parts of the body that evolved most rapidly around that time, especially the brain. It suggests that once our direct human ancestors had evolved the equipment for sophisticated language and problem-solving, mating with Neanderthals – and the DNA that came with it – rapidly fell out of fashion.
Story: Andy Coghlan, New Scientist| Photo: Pierre Andrieu/Getty