By sequencing a remarkably complete genome from a 50,000-year-old bone fragment of a female Neandertal found in Vindija Cave in Croatia, researchers report online [October 5] in Science a new trove of gene variants that living people outside of Africa obtained from Neandertals. Some of this DNA could influence cholesterol levels, the accumulation of belly fat, and the risk of schizophrenia and other diseases.
A key question has been: What does this archaic DNA do in living humans? Drawing largely on the Altai genome, researchers have published on about two dozen Neandertal gene variants that influence living humans’ risk of allergies, depression, blood clots, skin lesions, immunological disorders, and other diseases.
[T]his Neandertal’s genome is more closely related to today’s Europeans and Asians than that of the Altai Neandertal. And Prüfer and his colleagues already have discovered 16 new Neandertal gene variants passed on to living humans. These include changes in genes already known to govern levels of cholesterol and vitamin D, and to influence the risk—for better or worse—of developing eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and schizophrenia, as well as the response to antipsychotic drugs. Researchers will now more closely study how each Neandertal version tips the balance in living people.
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