How Neanderthal Noses Became a Lasting Legacy for Modern Humans
Neanderthals’ large, broad noses evolved to regulate the cold, dry air of the Ice Age and suck in enough oxygen to meet high energy demands, according to a series of computer simulations. Researchers found that they were so useful that when Neanderthals passed their noses on to certain humans through interspecies reproduction, the gene lived on to this day.
It affects how “tall” the nose is, how long it is from top to bottom, and must have experienced tens of thousands of years of natural selection to be discovered in modern times.
“Differently shaped noses may be better suited to different climates our ancestors lived in,” said lead author Qin Li of Fudan University in a press release. “The gene we identified here may have been inherited from Neanderthals to help humans adapt to colder climates when our ancestors moved out of Africa.”
Humans and Neanderthals share a lot of DNA, as we learned from the sequencing of the first Neanderthal genome in 2010. We descended from a common ancestor and remained genetic kissing cousinsafter all.
Read more: Who were the Neanderthals?
In search of Neanderthal genes
The new study relied on data from about 6,000 people recruited from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru, all of whom provided DNA. This was compared to photographs of their faces, which measured the distances between certain points, such as between the tip of the nose and the edge of the lips. Learning led by University College London, used special software to place 106 points on faces, landmarks covering the eyes, nose, mouth, temples and chin.
Researchers have found 33 regions of the genome that correspond to facial features. One region of Neanderthal origin, ATF3, encodes the longer Neanderthal noses.
“Here we find that part of the DNA inherited from Neanderthals influences the shape of our faces. This may have been useful for our ancestors as it was passed down over thousands of generations,” said corresponding author Kaustubh Adhikari in a press release.
Ancient lip genes
IN related study as of 2021, researchers relied on data from 6,000 subjects to identify 32 novel gene regions associated with facial features, including nine they declared novel discoveries.
These include a gene, TBX15, associated with the ancient Denisovan people, an early human species that lived in Central Asia and interbred with early Homo sapiens. Not all people have this consistency related to the shape of the lips. According to Adhikari, lips “could have helped distribute body fat to make them more suitable for the cold climate of Central Asia.”
Read more: Who were the Denisovans?
According to Andres Ruiz-Linares, a professor at Fudan University, in a press release“research like this can provide fundamental biomedical insights and help us understand how humans evolved.”