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What the Neanderthal Genes Might Do

After studies emerged indicating that the ancestors of modern humans and Neanderthals interbred, researchers have begun to examine what that 2 percent or so of Neanderthal-derived DNA found in modern non-African humans does, The Scientist writes.

Early findings indicated that Neanderthal-derived DNA was enriched in parts of the genome involved in immune and autoimmune traits as well as in skin traits, and researchers have begun examine how these variants function on a molecular level. For instance, it reports that researchers in Svante Pääbo's lab at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology developed brain organoids from induced pluripotent stem cells from individuals with differing Neanderthal-derived variants that suggested the Neanderthal-derived variants affected gene expression.

But one of those former postdocs, Grayson Camp, now at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel, tells The Scientist that this work is still in its early days. "No one has actually shown yet in culture that a human and Neanderthal allele have a different physiological function," Camp notes. "That will be exciting when someone does."