People from Tuscany are most similar to Neanderthals

People from Tuscany are most similar to Neanderthals

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In his blog, John Hawks, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, discusses the level of introgression (i.e. the introduction of genes from the gene pool of one species into that of another during hybridization) of Neanderthal genes into modern human populations, using data from the 1000 Genomes Project.

The 1000 Genomes Project is the first project to sequence the genomes of a large number of people, to provide a comprehensive resource on human genetic variation.  It aims to investigate relationship between genotype (genetic makeup) and phenotype (observable characteristics or traits).  The African genomes in the 1000 Genomes sample include the Yoruba from Nigeria and the Luhya from Kenya.  The Asian populations sampled are Japanese and Chinese, including people of Han Chinese ethnicity in Beijing and southern China.  The European ancestry samples include British, Tuscan, Spanish and Finnish.

In a series of histograms (graphs showing the distribution of genome and population data), Hawks shows that Asian and European genomes have significantly more Neanderthal DNA than African genomes.  The averages for Asian and European samples are around 3% higher than the average for African samples.  Whatever gave Africans some degree of similarity to Neanderthals, non-Africans seem to have received around 3% more of it.

Europeans average a bit more Neanderthal DNA than Asians, showing that Europeans probably mixed with Neanderthals as they moved into Europe, adding a secondary mix of Neanderthal DNA into their genome beyond the primary mix shared by their respective ancestors.

The differences in Neanderthal admixture between populations within regions is more interesting.  For example, Tuscans have the highest level of Neanderthal similarity of any of the 1000 Genomes Project samples. They have around a half-percent more Neanderthal similarity than the British or the Finnish.  This could be show a north-south geographical difference in Neanderthal ancestry, but later population movements in Europe probably masked a significant part of the Upper Paleolithic gene pool. However, the persistence through time of extra Neanderthal ancestry in southern Europe needs further study.

Neanderthal Sites and Migration Routes of Modern Humans into Europe 40,000 years ago
Neanderthal Sites and Migration Routes of Modern Humans into Europe 40,000 years ago

Populations within East Asia also show differences in Neanderthal similarity.  North China has a bit more Neanderthal, on average, than South China according to the samples, though all are identified as ethnic Han Chinese.

In Africa, the Yoruba of Nigeria have substantially more Neanderthal similarity than the Luhya of Kenya.  This is puzzling, because the geographic location of the Luhya in East Africa seems better placed for Neanderthal similarity to appear, whether through ancient population structure or through the backmigration into Africa of Neanderthal descendants.  Instead, the Yoruba in West Africa are the recipients of Neanderthal genes.  Much more is still to be learnt about ancient African population structures by using Neanderthal-similar regions of the genome, including ancient populations that do not appear in archaeology.

 

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21 Comments

  1. United States I guess descendents of early inhabitants of Europe, like etruscan, but also basques & celts, that practiced endogamy due to living in mountains, and other insolated enviroments, far from big cities must have higher levels of neanderthal genes. For example, in Spain the invading armies (morish, roman, etc ), always stay in the plains, they did not aventure into the hills. Same in Scotland and Ireland, the brits and others invaders armies never aventured into the hills.

  2. United States Fascinating, so basically we can conclude that all non-Africans have traces of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, that Europeans average a bit more than Asians, Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and other non-Africans, and that out of Europeans, southern Europeans average a bit more. As someone of largely Italian extraction (including a bit of Tuscan), this is quite interesting to me. I’ve also read that the somewhat higher levels of Neolithic ancestry in southern Europe could also be a factor in slightly higher admixture there(considering that Neolithic migrants came out of the Near East, also an area where Neanderthals lived before fully modern humans from Africa arrived on the scene). Neolithic ancestry is said to be highest in places like Sicily/southern Italy (a big part of my ancestry) and the southern Balkans (i.e. Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, etc.).

    In any event, even before DNA evidence confirmed some interbreeding with Neanderthals, I suspected that those thousands of years of co-existing with Cro-Magnons in Europe must have had some further impact on the genetic compositions of European and Middle Eastern populations, in addition to the encounters in the Middle East before humans spread outward to Asia, Australia, and the Americas which gave rise to Neanderthal DNA in those human populations.

    Really interesting stuff though, no doubt. The story of human origins becomes more fascinating by the day, who we are and where we come from. It would certainly turn conventional wisdom on its head to consider that Neanderthal genes could have played a pivotal role in such human innovations in the creative fields of art, architecture, science, and philosophy, considering the negative view of Neanderthals that predominated throughout most of history. The Italian Renaissance was a largely Tuscan phenomenon to boot. Not that Neanderthal genes were necessarily the root cause, but it makes for an interesting coincidence I think.

  3. United States I just wonder, of all the people that underwent DNA testing, is there anybody with more than 6% neanderthal genes?

    • United States My dad is from the mountains of Futani, Italy and we always said must have a great deal of Neanderthal is him. He has thick bone structure, short and stocky unlike many people I see. My grandmother also was built like him. Neanderthals still live in the mountains and hills in southern Italy..lol

  4. Italy @Hahaha
    Or how the hell your nick is, take it easy, you can count Tuscans in Usa over an hand since they almost never emigrated. Especially in the Us of A.

  5. United States Neanderthals had Large eyes, beefy builds and possibly hairy bodies. Sounds a lot like southern Europe to me! Even still, there are many coincidences just as Al stated above between Europe and Neanderthal DNA. Check out any map of Blood type A and compare it to the extent of Neanderthal habitation in Eurasia. Shocking!

    • Italy Like S.Europe? LOL
      Are you another american who relies on stereotypes and pics from Internet?
      Take a trip dude.

    • Canada Sounds like a typical American racist, Neanderthals also had pale skin and red hair. His stereotyping is laughable. He’s obviously never heard of Monica Belluci.

  6. United States You’re all idiots…Tuscany was the most refined, powerful duchy in Europe. It was the center of art, banking, and trade. Tuscany was a major power broker in Europe, influencing kings and popes alike. The Netherlands was the only northern European power that rivaled Tuscany in art, culture, and greatness…

  7. United States I’m of 100% European background, and I’m 1/4 Tuscan. My Tuscan side was from the Provinces of Liovrno, Lucca, and Massa-Carrara. My recent DNA analysis shows that in total I’m 3.00% Neanderthal, considerably higher than most people of European descent.

  8. United States I am Tuscan and American. We do exist. Different genetic testing sites have me at very different levels of Neanderthal. Three testing companies came out with very different results, including Genographic. All stated I was indeed Tuscan. Well, I knew that. I wouldn’t take a study that may have left out Germany, France and Arabia, very seriously. Think of the Neander Valley and how much mixing happened in the Arabian peninsula. The article doesn’t mention these important sites or testing people there.

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