Geico Cavemen: Closer Than You Think

Geico-cavemanHumans now appear to officially have been able to a) have “relations” with Neanderthals; and b) have “issue” from those relations.  Science Magazine is to be praised for offering the full study to the public for free.

Some of the articles about the landmark study sequencing the Neanderthal genome are biased and ridiculous.  After briefly discussing study methods, that article discusses the author’s belief of how the study will “disturb” people who believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old for religious reasons.  I don’t know – there’s a little bit more evidence than this out there, isn’t there?

What do I see in this news, other than the interesting confirmation of what many people suspected or believed based on other evidence, is that people are no more or less “special” than any other living creature.  So much scientific endeavor and thought has been tied up into preserving pre-conceived notions.  Maybe it’s a little bit like exploring a cave, looking for diamonds, and ignoring gorgeous cave animals and large veins of gold because you “weren’t looking for them.”

A lot of information about genetic “leaps” that can influence evolution and survivability was revealed by the study.  The Neanderthal DNA was obtained from three 40,000 year-old female Neanderthal skeletons found in a Croatian cave, but both human and Neanderthal DNA was sequenced, compared and studied.  According to the Business Week report, “The scientists identified 212 regions with these types of variations including 20 where the evidence was strongest. Among them are three genes that, when mutated, affect cognitive development and have been linked to autism, schizophrenia and Down syndrome, the team reported.”

This indicates some validity for my basic sense that what many call “negative” genetic traits do have some positive benefit.  We may not be fully-aware of that benefit, just as we may have been very rigid in our previous views of Neanderthals as “primitive” and even genetically incompatible with humans.  The 1 to 4 percent “Neanderthal” DNA match found in Asian and Caucasian humans does not mean that people with the match are “1 to 4 percent” Neanderthal.  It means that approximately 45,000 years ago, there was interbreeding between homo sapiens coming out of Africa and Neanderthals in the Middle East, where Neanderthals had previously emigrated from Africa, a much longer time ago. Today, this DNA remains as evidence of the interbreeding in the ancestry of these people.

And that’s my cousin “Bob” above.

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Geico Cavemen: Closer Than You Think — 5 Comments

  1. The other way to think about it is to look at the lines that split off before humans went north to hook up with Neanderthals. These are mainly African groups, the San and some other tribe. There are not many of those folks around. Could it be that a little admixture of Neanderthal was good for us? Made us more successful, more clever, better survivors? Counting purely by numbers, you would think so.

  2. @Brenda: The main differences between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (aka Homo sapiens) are in genes involved in cognitive development and skeleton structure, so it’s unclear if the tiny admixture made us more clever or stronger. If the Neanderthals were smarter, their culture would have evolved faster and they would have survived as major representatives of humanity.

    Africans, who were/are as numerous as the rest of the world, have more genetic variation than all of the rest of humanity combined, which means they have gone through many optimizing permutations. The migrations from Africa consisted of very few and very small groups (confirmed by mitochondrial and Y-chromosome analyses).

    The Neanderthal genes came to be in us probably because the first small group that left Africa met them in the Middle East — and all their descendants carry the marks of that meeting.

  3. Whenever I read news like this, I’m reminded of Alice Sheldon’s/James Tiptree Jnr’s story, “And I Awoke And Found Me Here On A Cold Hillside”:

    “Anything different-coloured, different nose, ass, anything, man has to fuck it or die trying. That’s a drive, y’know, it’s built in. Because it works fine as long as the stranger is human. For millions of years that kept the genes circulating.”

    I think she would have appreciated the news.

  4. Brian Plante and I co-wrote a story called “Wildflower” about the last Neanderthal man – I am always reminded of that whenever I hear news about research into Neanderthal genetics, origin, “end” and culture. Thank you for bringing up that wonderful story by Tiptree, KS – very fascinating, and as she was so thoughtful, certainly this news would evoke interesting thoughts. Re: the African lineages, the “trouble” with this is that they tested only two genetic lineages from Africa, and it is true, the genetic diversity in Africa is very great, and those tested were those specifically known to have characteristics predating the 2nd (or 3rd or whatever) migration “out of Africa”. The study authors suggest that further testing of other African lineages might also show a Neanderthal ancestry at some level and they guessed in North Africa.

    Physically, Neandertals have been shown to have a lot of physical injuries during their brief lives (few lived past age 30 that we know of). They were busted up, down, back and forth by extremely active and dangerous lives. They clearly functioned under severe physical challenge and obviously under serious pain. They were also very robust and strong-built. We see these characteristics among many people today, and if pressured, I’d put my money on the adrenaline junkies, thrill-seekers and those who are physically adventurous as having some of the Neanderthal influence. Of course we don’t really know, and the truth is, both humans and Neanderthals had and have these qualities. As to the evidentiary 1 to 4% being “junk DNA” as was reported, my recent research into cloning shows that term is meaningless. “Identical” clones come out looking and acting very different from their parent and from each other (esp. with cats – this is why commercial pet cloning slowed and stalled). It’s in gene expression, which is influenced in ways throughout embryonic and fetal development that is not fully-understood.