Interspecies fun (and benefits)
November 8, 2006 1:13 PM Subscribe
Neanderthal Lovin’! New research from evolutionary scientist Bruce Lahn suggests that humans and the now extinct Neanderthal species mixed, and humans snatched up a valuable brain gene in the process. (The gene, MCPH1, and Lahn, discussed last year on MeFi) This comes on the tails of yet another new study providing morphological evidence that there was nontrivial interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia, despite the fact that Neanderthals may have been genetically closer to chimps than humans. Contrary to popular imagination, though, the Neanderthal species had bigger brains and sophisticated intellects, at least roughly on par with that of human beings. The gene regulates brain size during development, but its exact utility to humans is still unknown (and controversial). The origin of this gene and the question of Neanderthal mixing will soon be answered more definitively by the, just launched, 2 year project to map the Neanderthal genome, headed by Svante Pääbo (profiled in recent Smithsonian and Wired articles). Pääbo calls Lahn’s study "the most compelling case to date for a genetic contribution of Neandertals to modern humans."
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