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Depressed? Desperate for a ciggie? Blame the Neanderthals

Prehistoric nookie has knock-on effects

By Iain Thomson, 12 Feb 2016

It's now well established that ancient humans interbred with their Neanderthal cousins and their DNA intermingled with ours, but a new genetic analysis has shown that shagging around has had consequences.

The research, undertaken by Vanderbilt University using its database of over 28,000 DNA samples, showed that Neanderthal DNA has influenced modern humans, making us more prone to a variety of psychological and physical issues, including depression and addiction to nicotine.

"Our main finding is that Neanderthal DNA does influence clinical traits in modern humans. We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric and reproductive diseases," said John Capra, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt.

A paper entitled "The phenotypic legacy of admixture between modern humans and Neanderthals," published in the February 12 issue of the journal Science, showed that by measuring the levels of Neanderthal DNA in our genome it was possible to predict the likelihood of a whole range of conditions.

For example, the speed with which our blood clots was increased by Neanderthal DNA. That would have been useful back then, helping to speed recovery from wounds for example, but these days it's an issue with raising the possibility of blot clots and strokes.

Certain Neanderthal DNA also "significantly increases risk for nicotine addiction," and has an effect, both positive and negative, on the preponderance of a patient to suffer from depression.

"The brain is incredibly complex, so it's reasonable to expect that introducing changes from a different evolutionary path might have negative consequences," said Vanderbilt doctoral student Corinne Simonti, the paper's first author.

Thankfully this is not an exact science. Here in the Reg US offices, one of our hacks has scored in the top 99th percentile for Neanderthal DNA, with it making up 3 per cent of his genetics. Thankfully he's a non-smoker who's a happy chap at heart. ®

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