Neanderthal DNA may pose genetic risk for disorders and addictions

In 2010, Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo developed a method for sequencing and analyzing ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones. By mapping the entire Neanderthal genome, and comparing it with the genetic record of living humans, he produced conclusive evidence that confirmed widespread anthropological speculations: most Humans all carry small traces of Neanderthal DNA in our genetics.

Evidence of prehistoric sexual encounters between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals has kicked off an in-depth anthropological and biological investigation into deeper questions of genetic variation in humans. various health problems.

Most recently, these findings prompted a team of scientists to re-evaluate risk factors for people’s behavioral disorders, addictions, and brain disabilities, such as neurological or psychiatric illnesses. God.

One study suggests that Neanderthal DNA may contribute to human behavioral patterns around smoking, drinking and sleeping.

An international team of scientists, led by researchers from Estonia’s Tartu University, analyzed the DNA links of Neanderthals, tracing a wide range of human habits and psychological patterns. They also examined more than a hundred variants of brain disorders from the UK’s Biobank, an archive of biological samples used for research. The aim was to narrow down the specific contribution of Neanderthal DNA to human behavioral traits.

“Our results suggest that Neanderthals carried many variants that significantly increase the risk of smoking in humans today,” said Michael Dannerman, associate professor of evolutionary genomics at the University of Tartu and lead author of the study. research, said in a press release.

Stefan Gold, a professor of neuropsychiatry who co-led the study, added that Neanderthal DNA’s significant links to smoking and alcohol habits could “help us shed light on the evolutionary origins of behavior.” addiction and reward seeking”.

“It is important to note that sleep problems, alcohol and nicotine use have consistently been identified as common risk factors for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric disorders,” Gold said in news. “On the other hand, there are some intriguing findings from anthropology that have suggested some social benefits of higher tolerance of these substances in hunter-gatherers.”

While determining the cause will certainly require further analysis of the ancient DNA sequence and its connection to modern humans, researchers like Dannerman believe that certain genetic trends may be due to environmental factors causing evolutionary adjustment. He explains that different sleep patterns, for example, could be attributed to Neanderthals migrating beyond Africa – an environment defined by varying degrees of weather and exposure to UV light. , which is different from today’s environment in which humans evolved later. is just one example of how anthropological factors can be repeated in the behavior of modern humans.

This echo may have reverberated in the wake of COVID-19.

Back in 2020, researchers in Germany identified a DNA sequence that was associated with more severe cases of certain COVID-19 variants. They compared it with sequences related to a Neanderthal ancestor and determined that genes inherited from this ancestor could lead to a more severe response during disease.

Through further examination, scientists expect new findings about how Neanderthal DNA might affect the human immune system and what genetic predispositions will arise.

As Dannerman said in the news release, “these results provide interesting candidates for further functional testing and will likely help us in the future better understand human-specific biology.” Neanderthals.”


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