Ancient DNA Unravels Surprising Link to Modern Humans’ Traits and Health


The last survivors of an ancient era, Neanderthals and Denisovans, continue to live on within us—their descendants, Homo sapiens. In a twist of evolutionary fate, fragments of who they were are etched in our genes, subtly shaping our traits, health, and even our response to modern pandemics such as COVID-19.

Advancements in the field of science now enable us to decode fragments of ancient DNA, giving us insight into how our ancient cousins influenced us. From the shape of our noses to our susceptibility to certain diseases – the genetic imprints of our distant kin are everywhere.

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Intriguingly, researchers have found that a gene carried by Neanderthals and Denisovans resulted in mice that exhibited larger heads and an extra rib. The traits inherent in us, passed down from these early humans, are impacting us in ways that are surprising, sometimes beneficial, and occasionally detrimental.

Finding answers to cosmic questions like the essence of our identity and the roots of our origin has been a timeless quest. Recent revelations are drawing us closer to these truths and pointing towards the profound reality: We are not as different from our extinct relatives as we previously thought.

Studying the genetic legacy of our ancient relatives has led to a steady stream of fascinating discoveries. Certain populations, particularly those of European or Asian origin, carry one to two percent of either Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA. This may not seem significant, but bearing in mind how little of them actually survived, the numbers add up to their considerable impact on modern humans.

However, the assimilation didn’t come without costs. Neanderthals and Denisovans, by virtue of being adapted to living outside of Africa, carried certain immunities against diseases of their regions. Interbreeding with them provided Homo sapiens with an immunity boost, which although beneficial at the time, has resulted in some present-day individuals suffering from autoimmune diseases such as Graves’ disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Also influencing our survival were our ability to travel extensively and our adaptability to diverse climates, combined with our more efficient bodies. However, our genetic makeup, complete with quirks borrowed from ancient relatives, helps define our journey as a species.

Although we evidently outlasted our ancient kin, every new revelation only emphasizes how indebted we are to their legacy. Our evolution has been a story of not only survival but interaction and adaptation.

As science progresses, we expect to unravel more about our shared genetic legacy with Neanderthals and Denisovans. As we delve deeper, we realize that they weren’t so different from us after all.

In the grand scheme of things, understanding our past can help us navigate our future. As we pay homage to our predecessors’ contribution to our existence, we continue to push boundaries and explore new frontiers, just as they did.

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