Neanderthals still seem to influence the shape of our noses

A gene that modern humans inherited from extinct Neanderthals influences the shape of the noses of humans who walk the Earth today.

This is what an international team of researchers writes in the journal Communication biology. In their study, scientists reveal the discovery of a gene that leads to a longer nose and appears to have originated in Neanderthals: hominins that went extinct about 40,000 years ago.

face shape
“In the past 15 years — in fact since we mapped the Neanderthal genome — it has become clear that our ancestors had intercourse with Neanderthals, so we still have small fragments of Neanderthal DNA,” said researcher Kaustuph Adhikari. “And we found that the piece of DNA that we inherited from Neanderthals affects the shape of our faces.”

The researchers based their conclusions on an analysis of the genetic material of more than 6,000 people living in Latin America. Some had European or African ancestry, others had Native American descent in the United States or a combination thereof. The researchers compared the participants’ genetic material to the participants’ photos, looking specifically at the distances between certain facial features (such as the tip of the nose and the top of the lip). The goal was to find out which genetic characteristics are associated with certain facial features. It results in the discovery of a gene that is particularly common among people of Native American descent, originating from Neanderthals and affecting the shape of the nose. Concretely, the gene seems to cause the nose to protrude a little longer.

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The fact that the gene still affects the shape of the human nose indicates that having this gene has certain advantages. This idea is supported by the fact that the researchers found evidence that natural selection occurred in the region of the genome where this gene is located.

natural selection
Natural selection is the phenomenon that some organisms within a population are better adapted to their environment than others. As a result, these organisms have better chances of survival and therefore better chances of successfully reproducing. As a result, those organisms that are most adapted—and therefore also the (genetic) characteristics that make them so adapted to that environment—will gain the upper hand.

“It has long been speculated that the shape of our noses is determined by natural selection,” said researcher Cheng Li. “Since our noses can help regulate the temperature and humidity of the air we breathe, slightly differently shaped noses may be better suited to the different climates our ancestors lived in. The gene we identified may have been inherited from Neanderthals because it helped our ancestors adapt to colder climates when They left Africa.”

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that scientists have found evidence that extinct humans – through the DNA they gave us as a gift – still influenced the shape of our faces. For example, the same research team discovered a gene a few years ago Which influences the shape of the lips in modern humans and comes from Denisovans.

Megan Vasquez

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