According to a new research one of the earliest modern European humans has very recent Neanderthal ancestors, which indicates that the two species interbred. The Neanderthal ancestor could be considered a great-great-grandparent of the modern man. So it seems that humans had sexual intercourse with Neanderthals earlier than it was previously thought.
In the study which was published in the journal Nature David Reich from Harvard Medical School analyzed the DNA coming from a Romanian man who lived 40.000 years ago. The analysis indicated that 11% of his genome originated from Neanderthals.
The researchers analyzed the jawbone from Oase 1, the early modern human discovered in Romania in 2002. They chose to study it because the jaw had pronounced Neanderthal features. Another early human called Oase 2 also had Neanderthal traits.
The Neanderthal segments in Oase 1’genome suggest that one of his ancestors interbred with a Neanderthal less than only 200 years before he lived.
Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany has been working in this field for 16 years. In 2007 David Reich from Harvard Medical School joined Pääbo’s team. The two of them demonstrated that humans who live outside Africa have 2% of Neanderthal DNA.
This is their latest study and it answers the long-standing question of whether Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens interbred around 35.000 years ago, before the closest relative of humans went extinct.
The answer is that interbreeding happened indeed and that the Neanderthal ancestors contributed with one to four percent to the genome of all humans of today who live outside sub-Saharn Africa.
The researchers also remarked that Oase I does not share more variants of genes with later Europeans than it shares with East Asians. According to Reich this indicates that Oase I belongs to a pioneer population which did not mingle with modern Europeans.
“This sample seems to be part of an initial pioneer population of modern humans in Europe that overlapped with Neanderthals, interbred with them and kind of died out and was replaced by other waves of movement from other places. Those people today are descended from this later wave.”
Reich even said if you try to link Oase I to the modern humans of today you will find out that he is not much related to modern day Europeans, but rather with East Asians.
Image Source: BIOL1020 Genetics blog