Remnants of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans are associated with genes affecting type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, lupus, biliary cirrhosis and smoking behavior. They also concentrate in genes that influence skin and hair characteristics. At the same time, Neanderthal DNA is conspicuously low in regions of the X chromosome and testes-specific genes.
Many of the Neanderthal genes that live on in people today are involved in making keratin, a protein used in skin, hair and nails [Credit: Jose A Astor/Alamy]
The research, led by Harvard Medical School geneticists and published Jan. 29 in Nature, suggests ways in which genetic material inherited from Neanderthals has proven both adaptive and maladaptive for modern humans. (A related paper by a separate team was published concurrently in Science.)
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