The shape of the nose was inherited from Neanderthals

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Ancient Neanderthal skulls side by side, showing a difference in nose height. Credit: Dr. Kaustup Adhikari, UCLA

A new study led by UCLA researchers finds that humans inherited genetic material from Neanderthals that affects the shape of our noses.

the new Communication biology The study found that a particular gene, which leads to a longer (top to bottom) nose, may have been a product of natural selection as ancient humans adapted to colder climates after leaving Africa.

Interview co-author Dr. Kaustup Adhikari (Genetics, Evolution, Ecology, and The Open University at UCLA), said, “In the past 15 years, since sequencing the Neanderthal genome, we have been able to learn that our ancestors apparently interbred with Neanderthals, leaving us small parts of their DNA.

“Here, we find that some DNA inherited from Neanderthals influences the shape of our faces. This may be beneficial to our ancestors, as it has been passed down for thousands of generations.”

The study used data from more than 6,000 volunteers from across Latin America, of mixed European, Native American and African ancestry, who are part of the UCL-led CANDELA study, which recruited from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. The researchers compared the genetic information from the participants with pictures of their faces — specifically by looking at the distances between points on their faces, such as the tip of the nose or the edge of the lips — to see how different facial features were associated with having different genetic markers.

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The researchers recently identified 33 genome regions associated with facial shape, 26 of which they were able to replicate in comparisons with data from other races using East Asian, European or African participants.

In one region of the genome in particular, called ATF3, the researchers found that several people in their study of Native American ancestry (as well as others of East Asian ancestry from another group) had genetic material in this gene inherited from Neanderthals, which contributes to a taller nose. They also found that this genetic region had signs of natural selection, suggesting that it conferred an advantage on those who carried the genetic material.

The first author, Dr. Designed noses may be more suitable for the different climates in which our ancestors lived. The gene we identify here may have been inherited from Neanderthals to help humans adapt to colder climates as our ancestors moved out of Africa.”

Co-author Professor Andrés Ruiz Linares (University of Fudan, UCLA Genetics, Evolution and Ecology, Aix-Marseille University) added, “Most genetic studies of human variation have looked at the genes of Europeans; our study’s diverse sample of participants from Latin America broadens the scope of our findings.” genetic studies, helping us to better understand the genes of all humans.”

This discovery is the second discovery of DNA from ancient humans, different from Homo sapiens, affecting the shape of our face. In a 2021 paper, the same team discovered that a gene that affects lip shape was inherited from ancient Denisovans.

The study included researchers based in the UK, China, France, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Germany and Brazil.

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more information:
Automated landmarks identify novel sites associated with facial morphology and implicate Neanderthal entry into the human nose shape, Communication biology (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s42003-023-04838-7

Journal information:
Communication biology


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