Neanderthal-Human hookups were no one night stand

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An analysis of the Neanderthal DNA found in modern humans from Europe and East Asia suggests amorous encounters between the two species occurred not just in a single episode of interbreeding, but many times over a long period of time, according to US scientists. The researchers were intrigued by the fact that East Asians have 12 - 20 per cent more Neanderthal DNA than Europeans, and used computer models to analyse the differences in DNA, concluding that humans engaged in a spot of Neanderthal nookie during many periods of interbreeding in our ancient history.

Journal/conference: Nature Ecology and Evolution

DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0735-8

Organisation/s: Temple University, USA

Funder: National Institutes of Health, USA and National Science Foundation, USA.

Media Release

From: Springer Nature

Neanderthal–early human interbreeding assessed

Neanderthals and ancestors of anatomically modern humans did interbreed at multiple points in time, according to the large-scale genetic analyses of Neanderthal DNA fragments in contemporary East Asians and Europeans published this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

When anatomically modern humans dispersed from Africa, they encountered Neanderthals in western Eurasia. These encounters left a signature in the genomes of contemporary non-African populations: about 2% of their genomes include a Neanderthal component. Initially, it was assumed that only a single episode of interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals occurred, but the observation that the proportion of Neanderthal ancestry is 12–20% higher in East Asian individuals relative to Europeans suggested the possibility of multiple encounters.

Fernando Villanea and Joshua Schraiber analysed the asymmetry in the patterns of DNA of Neanderthal origin between individuals of East Asian and European ancestry in a large dataset of modern human genomes. The authors then simulated contributions of Neanderthal DNA to the genomes of anatomically modern humans for different numbers of interbreeding events and used a machine learning approach to explore these complex models with many parameters. They conclude that the observed patterns of DNA of Neanderthal origin in modern human genomes are best explained by not one but multiple episodes of interbreeding between Neanderthal and both East Asian and European populations.

The authors conclude that multiple episodes of modern human–Neanderthal encounters fit with the emerging view of complex and frequent interactions between different hominin groups.

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