We don’t know for sure what happened to our predecessors the Neanderthals, but it’s a fair bet we humans had something to do with their demise.
Now scientists have found remnants of this lost species lurking within the ‘dark heart’ of our DNA.
The jury’s out on whether humans killed Neanderthals, gave them some nasty virus or just outcompeted them.
But it looks certain that we bred with the dead species because our genetic code contains ‘big chunks of Neanderthal and other ancient DNA’.
A new study has discovered genes from this proto-human species in areas of human chromosomes called centromeres which have not been fully mapped.
‘It’s the heart of darkness of the genome, we warn students not to go there,” said Charles Langley, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California.
The researchers looked at centromere sequences from the 1000 Genomes Project, a public catalogue of human DNA.
They found Neanderthal DNA as well as ‘ancient, archaic’ genes that ‘appears to be derived from an unknown relative’.
It’s believed the Neanderthal DNA contained in the 11th human chromosome ‘could be influencing differences in our sense of smell to this day’.
The university added: ‘It’s known from work by others that genetic variation in odorant receptors can influence sense of taste and smell, but the functional effects of the variation found in this study are yet to be discovered and their impact on taste and smell analyzed.’
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