Could Our Big Brains Come From Neanderthals?

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by 2cents, Nov 8, 2006.

    Tue Nov 7, 2006 6:07pm ET

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Neanderthals may have given the modern humans who replaced them a priceless gift -- a gene that helped them develop superior brains, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

    And the only way they could have provided that gift would have been by interbreeding, the team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Chicago said.

    Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides indirect evidence that modern Homo sapiens and so-called Neanderthals interbred at some point when they lived side by side in Europe.

    "Finding evidence of mixing is not all that surprising. But our study demonstrates the possibility that interbreeding contributed advantageous variants into the human gene pool that subsequently spread," said Bruce Lahn, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the University of Chicago who led the study.

    Scientists have been debating whether Neanderthals, who died out about 35,000 years ago, ever bred with modern Homo sapiens. Neanderthals are considered more primitive, with robust bones but a smaller intellects than modern humans.

    Lahn's team found a brain gene that appears to have entered the human lineage about 1.1 million years ago, and that has a modern form, or allele, that appeared about 37,000 years ago -- right before Neanderthals became extinct.

    "The gene microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size during development and has experienced positive selection in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens," the researchers wrote.

    Positive selection means the gene conferred some sort of advantage, so that people who had it were more likely to have descendants than people who did not. Lahn's team estimated that 70 percent of all living humans have this type D variant of the gene.

    "By no means do these findings constitute definitive proof that a Neanderthal was the source of the original copy of the D allele. However, our evidence shows that it is one of the best candidates," Lahn said. Continued...

    © Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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  2. If Neanderthals had such big brains then why are they extincted?
  3. maxpi


    They kept bumping their heads. The monkeys have nice sloped heads so they miss a lot of objects or they just glance off.