“The progesterone receptor is an example of how favourable genetic variants that were introduced into modern humans by mixing with Neanderthals can have effects in people living today,” says Hugo Zeberg, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who performed the study with colleagues Janet Kelso and Svante Pääbo.
“The proportion of women who inherited this gene is about ten times greater than for most Neanderthal gene variants,” says Hugo Zeberg. “These findings suggest that the Neanderthal variant of the receptor has a favourable effect on fertility.”
Genomic Evidence from Past Studies
It’s thought that the Neanderthals and modern humans encountered in ancient periods and had sexual rendezvous, according to genomic evidence from past studies. Scientists believe that Western Asia is the most likely spot where it happened, said a 2017 study that analyzed the genetic material of people living in the region today, identifying DNA sequences inherited from Neanderthals.
“As far as human history goes, this area was the stepping stone for the peopling of all of Eurasia,” said Omer Gokcumen of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “This is where humans first settled when they left Africa. It may be where they first met Neanderthals. From the standpoint of genetics, it’s a very interesting region.”
The scientists analyzed 16 genomes belonging to people of Turkish descent. For example, one DNA sequence that originated from Neanderthals includes a genetic variant linked to celiac disease. Another includes a variant tied to a lowered risk for malaria. The bottom line is that Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago may continue to exert an influence on our well-being today, Gokcumen says.