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Neanderthal DNA May Influence Modern Health

Friday, February 12, 2016

Neanderthal influenced traits NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—Researchers from Vanderbilt University used a database of 28,000 anonymous individuals, whose DNA samples were linked to their electronic health records, to look for Neanderthal DNA variants and see if they could be connected to modern health problems. “Our main finding is that Neanderthal DNA does influence clinical traits in modern humans: We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric, and reproductive diseases,” evolutionary geneticist John Capra said in a press release. But 40,000 years ago, Neanderthal DNA might have provided modern humans with adaptive advantages as they came into contact with different pathogens and levels of sun exposure in new environments. For example, a Neanderthal variant that increases blood coagulation may have sealed wounds more quickly and prevented infections. Today, people who carry this variant are at an increased risk of stroke, pulmonary embolism, and pregnancy complications. Neanderthal DNA can also increase the risk of nicotine addiction, and influence the risk for depression. “The brain is incredibly complex, so it’s reasonable to expect that introducing changes from a different evolutionary path might have negative consequences,” added graduate student Corinne Simonti. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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