Posts Tagged: Neanderthals
Perhaps something to take away from this is, given the difficulty of childbirth (for Neanderthals as well as humans today) this seems to suggest large brains were under strong positive selection in Neanderthals. Which suggests that they may have been as smart as humans today.
Neandertal birth canal shape and the evolution of human childbirth
Childbirth is complicated in humans relative to other primates. Unlike the situation in great apes, human neonates are about the same size as the birth canal, making passage difficult. The birth mechanism (the series of rotations that the neonate must undergo to successfully negotiate its mother’s birth canal) distinguishes humans not only from great apes, but also from lesser apes and monkeys. Tracing the evolution of human childbirth is difficult, because the pelvic skeleton, which forms the margins of the birth canal, tends to survive poorly in the fossil record. Only 3 female individuals preserve fairly complete birth canals, and they all date to earlier phases of human evolution. Here we present a virtual reconstruction of a female Neandertal pelvis from Tabun, Israel. The size of Tabun’s reconstructed birth canal indicates that childbirth was about as difficult in Neandertals as in present-day humans, but the canal’s shape indicates that Neandertals had a more primitive birth mechanism. A significant shift in childbirth apparently occurred quite late in human evolution, during the last few hundred thousand years. Such a late shift underscores the uniqueness of human childbirth and the divergent evolutionary trajectories of Neandertals and the lineage leading to present-day humans.
An interesting are of study in human genetics is the notion of introgression. That modern homo sapiens may have genes may have genes from other archaic human groups. Like Neanderthals.
Evidence that the adaptive allele of the brain size gene microcephalin introgressed into Homo sapiens from an archaic Homo lineage
At the center of the debate on the emergence of modern humans and their spread throughout the globe is the question of whether archaic Homo lineages contributed to the modern human gene pool, and more importantly, whether such contributions impacted the evolutionary adaptation of our species. A major obstacle to answering this question is that low levels of admixture with archaic lineages are not expected to leave extensive traces in the modern human gene pool because of genetic drift. Loci that have undergone strong positive selection, however, offer a unique opportunity to identify low-level admixture with archaic lineages, provided that the introgressed archaic allele has risen to high frequency under positive selection. The gene microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size during development and has experienced positive selection in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens. Within modern humans, a group of closely related haplotypes at this locus, known as haplogroup D, rose from a single copy ≈37,000 years ago and swept to exceptionally high frequency (≈70% worldwide today) because of positive selection. Here, we examine the origin of haplogroup D. By using the interhaplogroup divergence test, we show that haplogroup D likely originated from a lineage separated from modern humans ≈1.1 million years ago and introgressed into humans by ≈37,000 years ago. This finding supports the possibility of admixture between modern humans and archaic Homo populations (Neanderthals being one possibility). Furthermore, it buttresses the important notion that, through such adminture, our species has benefited evolutionarily by gaining new advantageous alleles. The interhaplogroup divergence test developed here may be broadly applicable to the detection of introgression at other loci in the human genome or in genomes of other species.