January 29, 2014

NYT: "The Little Bit of Neanderthal in All of Us" -- Who you calling "us," white man?

Carl Zimmer writes in the NYT:
The Little Bit of Neanderthal in All of Us 
Ever since the discovery in 2010 that Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of [some] living humans, scientists have been trying to determine how their DNA affects people today. Now two new studies have traced the history of Neanderthal DNA, and have pinpointed a number of genes that may have medical importance today. 
Among the findings, the studies have found clues to the evolution of skin and fertility, as well as susceptibility to diseases like diabetes. More broadly, they show how the legacy of Neanderthals has endured 30,000 years after their [quasi-] extinction. ...
Neanderthals, who became extinct about 30,000 years ago, were among the closest relatives of modern humans. They shared a common ancestor with us that lived about 600,000 years ago.

In the 1990s, researchers began finding fragments of Neanderthal DNA in fossils. By 2010 they had reconstructed most of the Neanderthal genome. When they compared it with the genomes of five living humans, they found similarities to small portions of the DNA in the Europeans and Asians.

But not sub-Saharan Africans.
But recently, researchers sequenced a far more accurate genome from a Neanderthal toe bone. 
Scientists at Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany compared this high-quality Neanderthal genome to the genomes of 1,004 living people. They were able to identify specific segments of Neanderthal DNA from each person’s genome. 
“It’s a personal map of Neanderthal ancestry,” said David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who led the research team. He and his colleagues published their results in the journal Nature. 
Living humans do not have a lot of Neanderthal DNA, Dr. Reich and his colleagues found, but some Neanderthal genes have become very common. That’s because, with natural selection, useful genes survive as species evolve. “What this proves is that these genes were helpful for non-Africans in adapting to the environment,” said Dr. Reich.

This was predicted by Harpending and Cochran before the confirmatory discoveries.
In a separate study published in Science, Benjamin Vernot and Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington came to a similar conclusion, using a different method. 
Mr. Vernot and Dr. Akey looked for unusual mutations in the genomes of 379 Europeans and 286 Asians. The segments of DNA that contained these mutations turned out to be from Neanderthals. 
Both studies suggest that Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair were favored by natural selection in humans. Today, they’re very common in living non-Asians. 

Oops! See below.
The fact that two independent studies pinpointed these genes lends support to their importance, said Sriram Sankararaman of Harvard Medical School, a co-author on the Nature paper. “The two methods seem to be converging on the same results.” 
It’s possible, Dr. Akey speculated, that the genes developed to help Neanderthal skin adapt to the cold climate of Europe and Asia.

Cochran's view, which I think he first told me in 1999 or 2000, was that Neanderthals had longer periods to evolve adaptations to cold climates, so it's likely that Out-of-Africa modern humans would have occasionally bred with them and picked up more highly evolved gene variants for living in Europe.
Both teams of scientists also found long stretches of the living human genomes where Neanderthal DNA was glaringly absent. This pattern could be produced if modern humans with certain Neanderthal genes couldn’t have as many children on average as people without them. For example, living humans have very few genes from Neanderthals involved in making sperm. That suggests that male human-Neanderthal hybrids might have had lower fertility or were even sterile. 
Overall, said Dr. Reich, “most of the Neanderthal genetic material was more bad than good.” 

The Neanderthal Anti-Defamation League would like to have a word with you, Dr. Reich, about your insensitive choice of adjectives.
Some of the Neanderthal genes that have endured until today may be influencing people’s health. Dr. Reich and his colleagues identified nine Neanderthal genes in living humans that are known to raise or reduce the risk of various diseases, including diabetes and lupus. 
To better understand the legacy of Neanderthals, Dr. Reich and his colleagues are collaborating with the UK Biobank, which collects genetic information from hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The scientists will search for Neanderthal genetic markers, and investigate whether Neanderthal genes cause any noticeable differences in anything from weight to blood pressure to scores on memory tests.

How about IQ tests?
“This experiment of nature has been done,” said Dr. Reich, “and we can study it.”
Correction: January 29, 2014 An earlier version of this article misstated the living groups in which Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair are very common. They are very common in non-Africans, not non-Asians. 

Oops.

48 comments:

xxxx said...

Carleton S. Coon... vindicated?

Ryan Long said...

Testable hypothesis: Whites, having had much success committing acts of bestiality with neanderthals, are more likely commit bestiality today.

I kid, I kid. I, for one, am proud of my neanderthal heritage.

Anonymous said...

Who are closer to the apes and other monkeys? Neanderthals or humans? Which were more primitive? This is potentially bad news for those arguing whites are more evolutionary advanced than blacks. But then the percentage of admixture is so small that it doesn't change the racial hierarchy.

Anonymous said...

"Neanderthals, who became extinct about 30,000 years ago, were among the closest relatives of modern humans. They shared a common ancestor with us that lived about 600,000 years ago."

Relatives of humans? If they could interbreed with humans and produce fertile offsprings, weren't they just another race of humans?

Liberals say, since all races can interbreed and produce fertile offsprings, they are all the same. So, why doesn't this recognition apply to Neanderthals?

I guess there is no Neanderthal lobby to demand that they are fully human too.

PS. What if Neanderthals still existed, and Americans had enslaved them instead of blacks? Would a Neanderthal be the bouncer on the mall?

Bill said...

So "Clan of the Cave Bear" was prescient, after all...

Anonymous said...

"Relatives of humans? If they could interbreed with humans and produce fertile offsprings, weren't they just another race of humans?"

Not necessarily. The influx of genes from the Neanderthals was quite small. It's likely that human-Neanderthal hybrids were mostly sterile or relatively infertile.

Even mules are occasionally fertile. That doesn't make horses and donkeys the same species.

Anonymous said...

I am proud of my NERDanderthal heritage!

Ex Machina said...

Another testable hypothesis: low-t response to parenting (see, e.g., http://healthland.time.com/2011/09/13/why-do-dads-have-lower-levels-of-testosterone/) is one of those snippets of Neanderthal DNA that got passed to us. Explaining why sub-Saharan males tend to be horrible fathers.

Dave Pinsen said...

"Not necessarily. The influx of genes from the Neanderthals was quite small. It's likely that human-Neanderthal hybrids were mostly sterile or relatively infertile.

Even mules are occasionally fertile. That doesn't make horses and donkeys the same species."


Cochran has made this point. Those who argue that race is meaningless because it has fuzzy borders seem to be unaware that species has fuzzy borders too.

Anonymous said...

If I had to guess at some possible neanderthal traits passed on to modern humans, would I be wrong to suggest:

1) Milky pale/translucent/pinkish skin
2) Red and possibly blonde hair
3) rh- blood types
4) A-type blood group
5) Blue and green and grey eyes
6) Full facial hair

In otherwords, certain remarkable traits found in humans only in the former area of Neanderthal inhabitation?

Geoff Matthews said...

Anonymous 2:54
Interesting ideas. My own 2 bits:
1) Possibly, though the sapiens who went eastward seem to have lost some of it.
2) See #1.
3) Don't know much about this.
4) Type A doesn't seem to be odd with African Americans.
5) See #1.
6) See #1. There are Asian groups who don't grow facial hair, others who do.

Piper said...

This makes me feel better about the pale complexions of the wax dummies which used to represent Neanderthals in dioramas in the Museum of Natural History.

Jonathan Silber said...

My truth is, I am a Neanderthal-American.

Anonymous said...

Who are closer to the apes and other monkeys? Neanderthals or humans?


Closer in what sense? The question is meaningless and shows ignorance of the subject matter.

a very knowing American said...

"Ryan Long said...Testable hypothesis: Whites, having had much success committing acts of bestiality with neanderthals, are more likely commit bestiality today."

I predict the opposite. Even if non-African populations benefitted over the long run from hybridizing with Neanderthals, the particular individuals who chased after Neanderthal instead of modern human mates likely had lower fitness, since at least in first generation hybrids “most of the Neanderthal genetic material was more bad than good” (according to Reich). Natural selection, which mainly works on individuals, should have worked against them, eventually resulting in innate Neanderphobia.

Neanderphobia: The ancient root of ice people racism!

(I'm kidding, but for entertainment's sake check out the Afrocentric book "Iceman Inheritance: Prehistoric Sources of Western Man's Racism, Sexism and Aggression," for somebody who doesn't seem to be kidding.)

Anonymous said...

I thought whites and Asians evolved light skin in completely different ways.

nooffensebut said...

Carl Zimmer is an associate of Razib Khan, Daniel MacArthur, Kevin Mitchell, and Neuroskeptic. Zimmer has commented on Razib’s blog that he opposes what he would probably call “scientific racism.” (That’s basically anyone who is reading this.) Most of that group feels the same way. I call them GWAS Jihadists, not because I don’t see the value in the GWAS approach, but because they don’t see value in the candidate- gene approach to genetics. With regard to IQ, they are probably right or mostly right, but not with regard to the genetics of aggression, which now has a large-sample meta-analyses favoring a candidate gene. After Christopher Chabris published a study that called for journals to stop publishing candidate-gene research, I had an exchange with him on his blog. He seemed very reasonable and didn’t seem to be standing by his advice for journals. More or less, studying Neandertal genes would require a candidate-gene approach, which is also called hypothesis-driven research because GWAS are sort of hypothesis free. I think that fits into a general deliberate ignorance of biochemistry on the part of GWAS Jihadists. I also think it is a scientist’s sensibility in opposition to a medical sensibility. If we all followed their “complex behavior” skepticism, we probably would have never developed psychotropic drugs for treating those “complex behaviors.” On some level, it’s anti-Darwinian because it assumes human behavior is just so special and precious that no “single molecule” could make any difference.

David said...

I categorize all such news stories under the head of "Jesus Was Black."

The science would be of no interest to the mass media if that angle or similar ones couldn't be insinuated at least implicitly.

The point is not whether Jesus was black (heck, he probably was). My point is merely the commonplace that the mass media pick up and run with press releases that advance (or can be distorted to advance) the narratives they want to tell.

If the internet has done anything, it has shown us the crucial need for many sources of information and the great value of independent venues. Imagine the net without Steve or Razib or, yes, even the maniacs out there. Our mental horizons would be diminished to the size of the NYT's various sections - i.e., we would be more or less lobotomized.

Anonymous said...

unaware that species has fuzzy borders too

Every abstraction has fuzzy borders. We create these abstractions for their practical utility in describing the world. Fuzzy borders argument against race is really a deeply stupid one.

Anonymous said...

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/01/29/if-you-want-hollywood-to-make-more-conservative-friendly-movies-consider-seeing-this-soon/

'Conservative' film. ROTFL.

Anonymous said...

"If I had to guess at some possible neanderthal traits passed on to modern humans, would I be wrong to suggest"

Beavis and Butthead.

Ichabod Crane said...

The blue-eyed Neanderthals set up the world's first democracy, but felt guilty that their egalitarian Eurocentric culture didn't include the vibrant homo sapiens south of the border in Africa. So they instituted an very lax immigration policy, allowing many homo sapiens come to Europe.

The homo sapiens weren't as progressive politically as the Neanderthals. They often resolved local disputes with violence, and brought this cultural trait with them to Europe. This was a great embarrassment to the ruling class Neanderthals who loathed to admit what they secretly knew -- that the homo sapiens were disproportionately inclined to violence. The more they were embarrassed by homo sapiens violence, the more the Neanderthal leaders doubled down on immigration policy, opening the borders, and giving full amnesty to homo sapiens immigrants. For most Neanderthals, supporting open immigration was more about social signaling rather than any real love for homo sapiens. Only the most progressive Neanderthals liked to demonstrate that to them, phylogenetic classifications were only skin deep, and they did this by fraternizing with the homo sapiens. Still, social intercourse was (for the most part) the only type of intercourse between Neanderthals and homo sapiens.

The recorded history of the Neanderthals was lost shortly after they established their open-borders immigration policy. We do know that the Neanderthal species died out at some point, and the homo sapiens from south of the border took over the northern part of the continent. Although this may be seen as a tragedy for many Neanderthals, we must remember the expressed wish of the best and brightest Neanderthals: that homo sapiens vibrant culture would replace the stale, white bread culture of the Neanderthals.

Ichabod Crane said...

>Who are closer to the apes and other monkeys? Neanderthals or humans? Which were more primitive?

Humans and Neanderthals had a common ancestor. So maybe neither was closer to apes. Also, today's apes and other monkeys may have undergone just as much genetic transformation as humans in the time since we all shared a common ancestor. Actually, apes and monkeys have shorter lifespans, so there have been more ape generations than human generations since we had a common ancestor. This makes it quite possible that humans are closer genetically to the common primate ancestor of apes and humans.

First they tell you that you came from a monkey. And now they I'm telling you that you are likely more similar to the monkey you came from than are monkeys! (Actually, the ape phenotype may have been more stable than the hominoid phenotype. This seems like it implies -- but it might not, for all I know -- that the ape genotype was also more stable.)

Here's a question I wrestle with: which is more physically similar, chimps and gorillas, or chimps and humans? Chimps and humans should look more alike, because they are much closer phylogenetically. Sure, chimps and gorillas share similar environments, so they share similar gross morphology: upper/lower body strength proportions and limb proportions. But I'd love to see a side-by-side comparison among humans and apes of features like: hair diameter, eye shape, and other things like location of cranial nerves and nuclei in the brainstem, etc.

Bottledwater said...

First they tell you that you came from a monkey. And now they I'm telling you that you are likely more similar to the monkey you came from than are monkeys!

And you're wrong. Humans are far more evolved than monkeys are. Monkeys have not undergone as much genetic transformation from the common ancestor as humans have, unless in some trivial neutral/junk DNA sense. Chimps are obviously as chronologically distant from the common ancestor as humans are, and are more generations removed, however unlike humans, they have genetically preserved the common monkey phenotype, unlike humans who became a wildly different big brained bipedal talking meta-tool making creature.

But most scientists are too stupid to understand this, and there's even a bone headed movement among biologists to get humans classified as "apes"

Mark Caplan said...

Shouldn't the one drop rule apply to non-Africans with Neanderthal ancestry?

Anonymous said...

Humans and Neanderthals had a common ancestor. So maybe neither was closer to apes.

Humans are genetically closer to cats than apes.

Ichabod Crane said...

"Chimps are obviously as chronologically distant from the common ancestor as humans are, and are more generations removed, however unlike humans, they have genetically preserved the common monkey phenotype, unlike humans who became a wildly different big brained bipedal talking meta-tool making creature."
--Bottledwater

I'm no scientist, but I suspect nobody knows how strongly the rate of change in gross phenotype correlates with the rate of mutation in coding sections of DNA. Your conclusion may be right (that human DNA changed fastest), but you are definitely wrong to base your hypothesis on gross phenotypic similarity. Look up 'convergent evolution' and you will see that similar morphologies for animals living in similar habitats can have little to do with shared DNA structure. (All the apes' habitats are more similar to those of other apes than they are to humans habitats going back to the very distant past.)

ben tillman said...

Carl Zimmer is an associate of Razib Khan, Daniel MacArthur, Kevin Mitchell, and Neuroskeptic. Zimmer has commented on Razib’s blog that he opposes what he would probably call “scientific racism.”

I read his otherwise good book on parasites, and it includes three or four pages of profoundly stupid PC lies regarding the possibility that humans could act as parasites.

Bottledwater said...

I'm no scientist, but I suspect nobody knows how strongly the rate of change in gross phenotype correlates with the rate of mutation in coding sections of DNA. Your conclusion may be right (that human DNA changed fastest), but you are definitely wrong to base your hypothesis on gross phenotypic similarity. Look up 'convergent evolution' and you will see that similar morphologies for animals living in similar habitats can have little to do with shared DNA structure. (All the apes' habitats are more similar to those of other apes than they are to humans habitats going back to the very distant past.)

But that's the point. Chimps stayed in the ancestral environment so they remained monkeys. Humans came down from the trees, moved to open savanaghs and even left Africa and the tropics, hence we evolved.

ben tillman said...

Not necessarily. The influx of genes from the Neanderthals was quite small.

You mean few instances of interbreeding? Or what? And how would you know?

ben tillman said...

Scientists at Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany compared this high-quality Neanderthal genome to the genomes of 1,004 living people. They were able to identify specific segments of Neanderthal DNA from each person’s genome.

“It’s a personal map of Neanderthal ancestry,” said David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who led the research team.


Tell us -- what's the range from lowest to highest amount of Neanderthal DNA in this sample?

Anonymous said...

I think Veblen fairly described the descendants of the brachiocephalic neandertals in "The Theory of the Leisure Class."

Neil Templeton

ichabodcrane said...

"But that's the point. Chimps stayed in the ancestral environment so they remained monkeys. Humans came down from the trees, moved to open savanaghs and even left Africa and the tropics, hence we evolved."

Sharks have looked the same and lived in the same - is environment for hundreds of millions of years. But surely genetic drift has changed them at the level of DNA, while a convergent - evolution - like -process has kept them morphological the same. But I wonder if there are subtle and yet very important differences between ancient and modern sharks. Same goes for chimps and gorillas. The basic way their brains processes information may be vastly different.

Anonymous said...

The influx of genes from the Neanderthals was quite small.


Yes, but:



"Living humans do not have a lot of Neanderthal DNA, Dr. Reich and his colleagues found, but some Neanderthal genes have become very common. That’s because, with natural selection, useful genes survive..."

Anonymous said...

http://youtu.be/KAhq-l0LUio

Anonymous said...

"I thought whites and Asians evolved light skin in completely different ways."

Two ways.

First way was the same for Euros and *North* Asians: red hair, light skin, freckles.

Second way was different genes. In both cases the second way overwrote the first way over time.

Anonymous said...

Behold the Liger:

http://youtu.be/1zOWYj59BXI

Bottledwater said...


Sharks have looked the same and lived in the same - is environment for hundreds of millions of years. But surely genetic drift has changed them at the level of DNA,


No doubt, but the DNA difference must be pretty trivial if they look the same and are still sharks, hence the terms junk DNA and neutral DNA

But I wonder if there are subtle and yet very important differences between ancient and modern sharks. Same goes for chimps and gorillas. The basic way their brains processes information may be vastly different.


If there are no important differences in what we can see, why assume there are important differences in what we can't see? That violates occam's razor.





ben tillman said...

I think Veblen fairly described the descendants of the brachiocephalic neandertals in "The Theory of the Leisure Class."

I've read the book, but I still don't follow you. Nenaderthals were extremely dolichocephalic.

Gottlieb said...

People with mental illness could be like the hybrid sapiens-neanderthal, exaggerated behavior adaptative of both, less sexually selected by ''normal'' ones...

Anonymous said...

little bit of neanderthal in all of us.

little bit me, little bit you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnMuwzm7kw4

Monkees find out they have something in common with blonde neanderthal.

Derb's Mossberg said...

The idea of Neanderthal DNA impacting IQ is really not so far fetched.

There is of course the fact that populations of humans with Neanderthal DNA tend to have higher IQs than those without.

But another point I was thinking of when it was mentioned that hair and skin color were found to be impacted was that these are both derived from the same germ layer as the brain and CNS. So maybe it is something happening in early development which in turn could be affecting the brain as well. Like certain gene(s) being turned on, or overexpressed, or silenced, etc.

The evidence so far suggests that many genes factor into IQ, and it seems reasonable that genetic changes to early development that could impact this germ layer could very well lead also to changes in the brain. What differs between Africans and Non-Africans? I know brain case volume for one. But there may be other things as well.

Anonymous said...

@ ben tillman

I was of the understanding that Neandertal skulls were generally brachycephalic. I may be in error. If so, I am willing to be schooled on the matter. Thanks,

Neil Templeton

Dan said...

Goddamn geneticists. So Europeans are a different subspecies than Africans? Jeebus.

Anonymous said...

Related: "Modern humans more Neanderthal than once thought, studies suggest", CBS News, January 29, 2014.

"Many of the genes that help determine most people's skin and hair are more Neanderthal than not, according to two new studies that look at the DNA fossils hidden in the modern human genome.

...parts of the modern human genetic blueprint ... still contain Neanderthal remnants. Overall, it's barely more than 1 percent, said two studies ...

... However, in some places, such as the DNA related to the skin, the genetic instructions are as much as 70 percent Neanderthal ...

... "We're more Neanderthal than not in those genes," Akey said. ...

... Another area where we have more Neanderthal DNA is parts of genetic codes that have to do with certain immune system functions...

... Neanderthal genes seem connected to certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and Crohn's disease and lupus...

... people of more East Asian descent had slightly more Neanderthal than Europeans... Han Chinese ancestors had the highest Neanderthal DNA rate: 1.4 percent... In Europe, Finns had the highest Neanderthal DNA rate with 1.2 percent..."

Anonymous said...

Also buried in "Modern humans more Neanderthal than once thought, studies suggest" is what sounds like a plausible theory about what happened to the Neanderthals:

"...the male hybrids of Neanderthals and humans weren't very fertile. Scientists figured that out because the genes associated with the testicles in humans and the X chromosome were unusually empty of Neanderthal influence."

Gottlieb said...

I was reading about the fact that albinos in Africa seem to be more intelligent than Africans with pigmentation. I read in '' Erektus amongst us '' that blacks have melanin even in the brain . Albinism mutations could be a reduction in melanin in the past can have the same effect , the immediate increase of intelligence. If the body has no more need to produce a huge amount of melanin so he will be able to concentrate or to divide into new tasks . Of course , based on the theory out of africa more precisely . Or, as albinism and changes in pigmentation is achieved everywhere in nature, in all cases, result in decreased pigmentation less aggressive ( as postulated Rushton ) and is the way to increase intelligence , since most people smarter , are less violent . Albinism is part of a natural variation of multiple mutations and combination of mutations with non - mutations . He would like for all classic autism spectrum , autism is an extreme variation.
As my curiosity never tire , I decided to read the forum Albinos some personal stories about their academic achievements .
Of course the selection of comments can make us have an exaggerated idea about the albino intellect, but I have the impression that albinos tend to be introverts, not only because of its rare nature (which causes conflicts with others) but also because the very low production of melanin results in a soft and shy personality. The lack of big names of albinos in science and Western culture, could be the result, first, the difficulty in getting them to lead a normal life without prejudice and second, that they are more timid, the first factor would contribute significantly to their great difficulties in gaining positions of great social relevance, psychoticism missing in these people.

http://akinokure.blogspot.com.br/2013/07/where-is-blond-accomplishment.html#links

As this link, blondes people seem to be more shy and conscientious. Two traits that can make perfect societies but tend to work negatively, not necessarily for the emergence of genius, but to their self exposure to the public and to the media.
I find it interesting to speculate where Neanderthals emerged??

Anonymous said...

"...in some places, such as the DNA related to the skin, the genetic instructions are as much as 70 percent Neanderthal ...

... "We're more Neanderthal than not in those genes,"..."


One naturally speculates that maybe Neanderthal races existed and that modern humans, after they left Africa, "married into" these existing Neanderthal racial types (as reflected in the genetic traits mentioned above), and soon mostly swamped the Neanderthal genetically, except for genes particularly effective in the new environment.

The Neanderthal may have been outside Africa for as much as 600,000 years, existing in small, isolated groups. Would it have been natural for "races" to have developed in this half-million years?