Did Neanderthals Breed With Early Humans?

by Limbic on November 14, 2006

From American Scientist E-Newsletter:

In a report published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, geneticists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Chicago reported that Neandertals may have interbred with modern humans, conferring an advantageous gene that regulates brain size during development.

The Chicago Sun-Times asserted that report was “sure to stir controversy” and quoted lead researcher Bruce Lahn claiming “definitive genetic evidence” that interbreeding might have occurred.

But Reuters pointed out that the evidence was indirect and noted an important clarification: “By no means do these findings constitute definitive proof that a Neanderthal was the source” of the allele, Lahn said, though he did say it was “one of the best candidates.”

The New York Times took the most nuanced view: It considered the opinions of other biologists (they support Lahn’s conclusions) and noted that two related reports are forthcoming. So does the Times think interbreeding took place? “Probably yes, though not often.”

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