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News

Research suggests human had sex with a Neanderthal and our brains are better for it today

University Of Chicago : 18 June, 2007  (Technical Article)
University of Chicago researchers suggest that 37,000 years ago a human had sex with a Neanderthal and our brains are better for it today, in a report sure to stir controversy.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of Chicago researchers studied the structure of the microcephalin gene, known to play a role in regulating brain size, and found an advantageous gene variation important for brain development.

'Our study provides definitive genetic evidence that humans might have interbred [with Neanderthals] and that interbreeding was important for the evolution of human biology,' said Bruce Lahn, the study's lead researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The scientists determined the gene variation originated about the time humans and Neanderthals coexisted. Lahn said a single event of interbreeding could have introduced the Neanderthal gene variation into the human gene pool.

The report, published Monday in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a modern human and Neanderthal produced a hybrid that mated with other humans. And the gene variation spread to alter brain biology in 70 percent of the human population today.

Lahn says he's sure there's plenty of scientists who will argue it's not true -- that the new finding goes against a prominent theory that figures modern humans and Neanderthals never mated.

But Lahn contends the timeline of the gene's origin 1.1 million years ago and its introduction to humans 37,000 years ago agrees with 'the contact between and evolutionary history of Neanderthals and humans.'
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