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Ancient East Asians mixed and mingled multiple times with Neandertals

More interbreeding may explain higher level of Neandertal DNA compared with Europeans

By
12:00pm, February 12, 2015
Neandertal sketch

INTERMINGLE  Ancestors of East Asians may have interbred more with Neandertals (illustration shown) than European forbearers did, leading today’s East Asians to carry slightly more DNA from the extinct human relatives than modern Europeans do.

East Asians got a double dose of Neandertal ancestry. That’s the conclusion of two new studies seeking to explain why East Asians inherited 15 to 30 percent more Neandertal DNA than Europeans did. The results appear in the March 5 American Journal of Human Genetics.

Recent research has suggested that Neandertal DNA is slightly detrimental to modern humans, making some people more prone to certain diseases, for example (SN: 3/8/14, p.12).

Natural selection should weed out the harmful stuff, but selection may have been less efficient at jettisoning Neandertal DNA from East Asians because they had a smaller founding population than Europeans did, one hypothesis suggests. Smaller founding populations make it more likely that genes, even harmful ones, might be inherited by chance.

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