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How Neanderthal DNA Changed the Human Body

Due to the amount of Neanderthal DNA in the modern human genome, it is believed that regular interbreeding between the two species began about 55,000 years ago. This would have gone on until around the time that the Neanderthals went extinct about 40,000 years ago. These prehistoric interactions between Homo sapien and non-Homo sapien humans have left many people of Asian and European descent with characteristics passed down to them by their Neanderthal ancestors.

Nose Shape

There is a big difference in the appearance of the noses of people with European or Asian ancestry and the noses of people with African ancestry. People with African ancestry have fewer or no ancestors that engaged with the Neanderthals because the Neanderthals were located in the areas we now know as Europe and Asia. Researchers have found that some people who are descended from humans that migrated outside of Africa inherited a version of the ATF3 gene that results in greater nose height. This adaptation with Neanderthal origins probably gave migrating people a greater ability to humidify the cold air. It should be noted that this was cold air that previous Homo sapiens were not accustomed to or adapted for. 

Skull Shape

Another feature that many modern humans have to thank the Neanderthals for is their skull shape. They inherited certain versions of the genes UBR4 and PHLPP1 that contributed to more elongated skulls. This is in comparison to the rounder skulls that Homo sapiens had before encountering other species of humans. UBR4 has been associated with the production of nerve cells and PHLPP1 has been linked to the production of myelin, which coats nerve cells. However, researchers are unsure if brain shape and function are also affected by Neanderthal DNA along with skull shape.


It has been found that Europeans inherited many genes involved in the breakdown of fat from their human cousins. These genes may have had an effect on both the body and the brain. Fat breakdown produces fatty acids and the brain then stores those resulting compounds. It is likely that the brain uses the fatty acids for very important functions since they are present at very high amounts. It is also likely that the inherited genes contributed to Homo sapiens’ ability to break down energy stores in the body and use them to survive in much harsher climates. Though these genes probably gave people an advantage in the prehistoric age, they are now linked to conditions like obesity.

Hair, Skin, and Eye Color

Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for tens of thousands of years before humans arrived. This gave them time to adapt to the different climates and amounts of sunlight. For some of them, their adaptations involved genes that affected skin, hair, and eye color, However, it is likely that, just like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals had a wide variety of skin, hair, and eye colors. This was a variety that has contributed to the variation of those traits in modern humans. 

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