Neanderthals may have gone extinct 30,000 years ago, but they still live on inside modern Europeans and Asians. Ever since scientists discovered that Neanderthal DNA comprises roughly 2 percent of the genomes of modern humans of European and Asian heritage, they’ve speculated about how exactly those lingering genes affect Europeans and Asians today. Now scientists have found that even though most humans hardly resemble Neanderthals in appearance, their DNA still influences how their genes work today.
Researchers sampled the genomes of 112,338 individuals with white European ancestry (whose genomes contain Neanderthal DNA) and used the data to tease out which traits are influenced by Neanderthal genetic variants. The traits they identified included those that affect hair color, skin color, skin tanning and burning, sleeping patterns, mood, and tobacco use.
For example, being a self-described night owl and being prone to daytime napping were both traits positively influenced by Neanderthal variants, as were loneliness, low mood, and smoking.
The study also found that several areas of the new Neanderthal genome match segments in certain modern humans, that are closely associated with various health concerns, including blood cholesterol levels, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis.