A second new paper concerning Neanderthals, published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics, finds that their genetic influence in living populations also extends to skin tone, hair color, sleep patterns, mood, and a person’s smoking status.
“What was somewhat surprising is that we observe multiple different Neanderthal alleles contributing to skin and hair tones,” Janet Kelso, a computational biologist who co-authored the study with her colleague Michael Dannemann, told Seeker.
“Some Neanderthal alleles are associated with lighter tones and others with darker skin tones, and some with lighter and others with darker hair colors,” she added. “This may indicate that Neanderthals themselves were variable in these traits.”
The skin tones, she added, ranged from very fair to dark olive.
The origins of red hair still remain a mystery, she indicated, as a clear link to Neanderthal ancestry could not be established.
“If variants contributing to red hair were present in Neanderthals, they were probably not common,” Kelso said.
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She and Dannemann, both from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, made these determinations and more after looking for known Neanderthal genetic variants in the UK Biobank, a database of information on 112,000 UK individuals that includes genetic data, along with details related to their physical appearance, diet, sun exposure, behavior and disease.
Per the other study led by Prüfer, Kelso and Dannemann could only identify associations between Neanderthal genetic variants and traits of people today, as opposed to determining what these variants actually did in Neanderthals, and how they precisely function now in their distant living relatives.