Our Neanderthal Cousins

There’s much to recommend in Carl Zimmer’s profile of David Reich in Discovery Magazine, not least of which are details on our favorite extinct human cousins, Neanderthals.

While Neanderthals are the rock stars of the piece, Zimmer also gives a good primer on human evolution, ancient migration out of Africa and what all that ancient DNA might mean for modern humans.

There are few things as fascinating to the folks here at 23andMe as the idea that the DNA of Neanderthals — who vanished about 30,000 years ago — lives on in us. And it bolsters the theory that Neanderthals and humans interbred between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, or about the time when modern humans began to migrate from Africa to Europe.

23andMe’s popular Neanderthal feature was developed by scientists Eric Durand and Mike Macpherson, and can tell you how much Neanderthal DNA you have.

In Zimmer’s piece Reich suggests that there may also be DNA from other extinct human subspecies in our genes, such as Denisova, another of our early human cousins. The remnants of that ancient DNA — which pieces, how much of it, and who carries it today — contain insights not just about human evolution and migration, but about health and traits in modern humans.

If you haven’t already, check out Zimmer’s story or read more about what we’ve written about Neanderthals and humans:

More Fun with Neanderthals
Find Your Inner Neanderthal
New Evidence Suggests Humans and Neanderthal Interbreeding

Got Neanderthal DNA?

23andMe customers can find their inner Neanderthal or at least how much Neanderthal DNA they have. Not yet a customer? Visit our store!






  • http://PaulLevinson.net Paul Levinson

    Good to see this article. For more speculation on Neanderthal – modern human relations, see The Silk Code

  • http://www.haplogroup-a.com/ Bonnie Schrack

    A decent article to introduce people to the concept, though it seems a shame that while they quoted Dr. Hammer at the end, they didn’t manage to include any mention of our paper, “An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree,” which provides the first evidence, from the Y chromosome DNA of living people in Cameroon and the U.S., that points toward interbreeding between archaic and modern people in Africa. I think our paper and this article were published at about the same time. It would have been nice to have it in Discover, because it might have been able to clarify the mistaken impression fostered by some of the news stories out there, that Neanderthals were somehow involved in interbreeding with Africans.

    As more African Americans are tested, we can hope to learn more and more about the earliest roots of humans in Africa, in all their complexity.

    If your 23andMe calls your Y lineage A1 (P108+ by the old tree), but not A1a, A2 or A3, please be sure to get in touch via the above website, so we can find out which of the very early newly discovered branches you might belong to. You can find our paper and other resources there, too.

    • http://www.haplogroup-a.com/ Bonnie Schrack

      I that see the website I referred to didn’t get included in the posting. It’s http://www.haplogroup-a.com. Thanks!

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