Study: Neanderthal genes are still affecting humans

Neanderthals haven't existed for the better part of 40,000 years, but their genes continue to affect present day humans in important ways. According to a new study, Neanderthal DNA resulting from the mating of Neanderthals with humans is still active in 52 varieties of human tissue, influencing gene expression. This influence includes things like making people taller and reducing one's odds of developing schizophrenia.

This work and others like it have been made possible via the sequencing of Neanderthal DNA that was performed successfully back in 2008. Most recently, researchers being led by the University of Washington's Joshua Akey used that DNA and compared it to DNA taken from more than 200 volunteers located in the United States.

Doing so, they discovered dozens of tissue types in which some Neanderthal genes are still present and active. In some cases, the volunteers are said to have had both human and Neanderthal copies of the same gene, though in about 25% of the cases, the modern gene acted differently than the Neanderthal variety.

Surprisingly enough, this remaining Neanderthal DNA can, in some cases, influence the presence of the gene ADAMTSL3 — a schizophrenia risk factor — in such a way to reduce that person's odds of actually developing schizophrenia. The Neanderthal DNA can also make a person taller than they'd otherwise be. However, researchers say there are other areas of the human body where Neanderthal genes are having increasingly less influence, with the testes and brain being chief among them.