Sometimes scientists think they did interbreed with us and sometimes they think they didn't, but the latest research indicates that today's human beings could be part Neanderthal.
Neanderthals were common between about 130,000 and 30,000 years ago. While they co-existed with modern humans for a while, eventually they went extinct, while we Homo sapiens remained alive and prospered. In LiveScience.com, Clara Moskowitz quotes genetic anthropologist Keith Hunley as saying, "The issue has been highly contentious for some time."
When geneticists looked at DNA samples from 2,000 humans living around the world today, they found signs of leftover Neanderthal genes from this interbreeding, indicating that this extinct group of hominids mixed their genes with ours two times in history.
The first probably occurred shortly after Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa around 60,000 years ago. The researchers found an lots of genetic diversity in all modern people except Africans, suggesting that the influx of Neanderthal-like DNA came AFTER the mass exodus from Africa.
The idea that a second period of interbreeding occurred is suggested by the fact that the researchers measured even more genetic diversity among people from Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and other Pacific islands. Moskowitz quotes Hunley as saying, "I think we show there's clear evidence in the genome of living people of this mixture. The fact that there's a clear signal implies that there was some significant amount" of interbreeding.
At least Neanderthals and Homo sapiens weren't cousins: That never works out well. Even Charles Darwin, who originated the theory of evolution, had that problem in his own family.
New research suggests that Charles Darwin's family was a living human example of a theory that he developed about plants: that inbreeding could negatively affect the health and number of resulting offspring. Darwin was married to his first cousin. They had 10 children, but 3 died before age 10, 2 from infectious diseases. And 3 of the 6 surviving children with long-term marriages did not produce any offspring, which researchers say is a "suspicious" sign that they could have had reproductive problems because of their lineage.
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