Crossbreeding of Homo sapiens with Neanderthals could lead to human evolutionary advantages

(ORDO NEWS) — Many people living today have a small percentage of DNA inherited from other types of people, such as Neanderthals, Denisovans and Floresian “hobbits”.

Presumably, interbreeding played an important role in the formation of modern man, and our evolutionary history resembles not a family tree, but the interwoven fabric of a carpet.

Previously, scientists believed that the evolutionary success of modern Homo sapiens led to the complete replacement of archaic human species by a new, more competitive species that secured an advantage through complex behavioral adaptations.

However, recent research has shown that in fact the process of becoming Homo sapiens “king of nature” was somewhat more complicated.

There is growing evidence that ancient lines of people, such as the Neanderthals , were not absolute savages, only slightly different from monkeys: they cared for old and infirm fellow tribesmen, created drawings and art, and decorated themselves with bird feathers.

Now, it seems, the old myth about the replacement of archaic human species with a new one will be finally dispelled.

A new study has shown that modern humans repeatedly interbred with ancient humans, and the change of species occurred not so much through competitive replacement, but through partial replacement with assimilation.

To collect this data, scientists had to work hard: ancient DNA is rarely preserved in fossil samples, so identifying possible hybrids is mainly due to skeletons.

Having collected a large number of fossil remains of ancient people from the Upper Paleolithic of Eurasia, dating from about 20-40 thousand years ago, scientists examined the preserved DNA fragments and analyzed the shape of the skulls, comparing it with the skulls of Neanderthals who lived before Homo sapiens arrived in Europe, and the African skulls of Homo sapiens.

The researchers focused on three areas of the skull: the mandible, the cranium, and the face, where they looked for tell-tale signs of hybridization, such as dental anomalies or unusual sizes. These features are still characteristic of many interspecific hybrids of mammals, including primates.

It turned out that hybrids of Neanderthals and modern humans lived not only in the Middle East – the place of contact between the two species – but also in Western and Eastern Europe.

Unfortunately, not all of the remains are well enough preserved to allow a full genomic analysis to establish the degree of hybridization, but the authors hope their work will encourage researchers to take a closer look at these fossils and combine multiple lines of evidence to definitively establish hybridization.

Interspecific crossbreeding is known in ten percent of modern animal species, including bovids, bears, canids, and primates.

Because hybridization produces new variants of genomes by shuffling the genes of the parent species, it can promote extremely rapid evolution, especially when faced with new or changing environmental conditions.

Thus, hybridization may have endowed ancient humans with genetic and anatomical features that gave them important advantages in spreading from Africa around the world, resulting in the appearance of a physically diverse and evolutionarily robust modern human.

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