Neanderthal genes may have helped early humans to survive in a new environment.
Two studies out this week say your sneezing and itchy eyes during the allergic season are the fault of genes you received from your Neanderthal ancestors, according to an article on npr.org.
More and more evidence is suggesting the Neanderthals were somewhat more sophisticated that the previously imagined brutes, and that they sometimes produced offspring by mating with their homo sapien neighbors.
Janet Kelso, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said, “When modern humans were coming out of Africa, they met the Neanderthals who were living at that time in Europe and western Asia, interbred with them and carried with them some of the Neanderthal DNA as they migrated out into wider parts of the continent.”
She adds the finding is not that surprising. Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia for about 200,000 years before modern humans came to the area and the early settlers had evolved to adapt to the environment around them at the time.
The humans, when bred with the Neanderthals, retained the genes that allowed that adaptation and passed them along to subsequent generations, helping them to survive in the different world.
Kelso, and a second team from the Pasteur Institute, studied DNA collected by the 1,000 Genomes Project for Neanderthals, and another early human, the Denisovans, looking at the genes that may be involved in regulating immunity.
Both teams found three genes in our genetic make up today that play a part in controlling our immune system that were present in the two extinct groups.
Although the integration of these genes made it easier for our ancestors to adapt and survive, there is a down side as well. Those smalls bits of the DNA sequence over stimulate the immune system when it contacts certain stimuli, such as pollen and animal hair.
Kelso said, “When the body detects that there is some foreign substance in the body, these are the guys that react immediately. It kind of calls in the ‘big guns’ by mobilizing key immune system cells to attack.”
The researchers say there is more in the genes than just the immunity factors, adding there could be Neanderthal influences in hair and skin as well, and they say a lot more research is need to identify even more traits that have been passed to us by the early humans.