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Sex with Neanderthals


Depiction of a Neanderthal family: gene exchanges with humans were rareNASA

The interactions between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, the extinct hominids closely related to modern humans, are one of the most controversial topics in human evolution. A study by Armando G. M. Neves, a Brazilian from the Federal University of Minas Gerais   (UFMG), and Maurizio Serva, an Italian from Aquila University, both mathematicians, calculated the frequency at which the two species exchanged genes up to 45,000 years ago in the Middle East, based on the premise that 1% to 4% of the nuclear DNA of present-day humans of non-African descent originates from Neanderthals, as revealed by a recent study. The study revealed that in a best-case scenario, a human and a Neanderthal would produce offspring once every 12 generations. In the worst case, they would only exchange genes successfully once every 77 generations (PLoS One, October 12, 2012). Considering a 130,000-year period of coexistence, about 10,000 individuals from both species were in contact, although a much smaller number effectively engaged in genetic exchange. The study also proposes that Neanderthals were potentially just as capable as humans, and that their extinction about 30,000 years ago may have been a purely random event.