Did Neanderthals Get It On With Humans?


Just how many neanderthal hearts did this little number break? (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Just how many neanderthal hearts did this little number break? (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As millions scrambled for gifts or grumbled bitterly in the final 48 hours leading up to Valentine's Day, BBC News reported that any Neanderthal wooing of Homo sapiens likely resulted in heartbreaking rejection. Yes, scientists from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recently completed the first draft of the Neanderthal genome, mapping roughly 60 percent of nature's recipe for caveman, and discovered far less of us in them than expected.

Contrary to what horror movies and morning traffic may suggest, Neanderthals have been extinct for roughly 30,000 years. Yet they didn't just shamble off the stage and pass the torch to humans. They lived side by side with communities of Homo sapiens for thousands of years. We share between 99.5 and 99.9 percent of our DNA sequence with them, yet, according to a report by NewsDaily, we only appear to share one gene related to speech.

You might think this would have been a boon to prehistoric blind dates between the two species. Imagine the lengthy discussions about the latest cave painting at the local mammoth roast. Scientists have long speculated that we may have inherited some of our DNA through the ensuing interbreeding. Yet, when researchers compared common variations in the microcephalin-1 gene in humans with the Neanderthal genome, they found only ancestors of the modern human version.

Currently, researches believe that any interbreeding between the two species had only a limited impact on the human gene pool -- if that. While a few Neanderthal Don Juans may have managed to score, most never made it past first base.

Will future cloning techniques give Neanderthals a shot at hooking up in the age of dance clubs and MySpace? Only time will tell.

Read More at HowStuffWorks.com: How Cave Dwellers Work How Human Cloning Will Work How Human Migration Works Could scientists resurrect the dodo bird? What have we learned from the human genome project? What is the Human Epigenome Project?


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.