A genetic variant inherited from close relatives of ancient Neanderthals is thought to have given modern humans greater fertility. New research shows that almost a third of modern European women carry some degree of genetic variants. The study found a special gene variant that encodes progesterone receptors. These receptors help the hormone progesterone bind to cells, helping, among other things, to reduce abortion rates in modern women.
New research by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden suggests that traces of the oldest genetic mutation in modern humans can be traced back to a 40,000-year-old individual discovered in China. By examining the genomes of ancient Neanderthals, the variant dates back 100,000 years.
Hugo Zeberg, lead author of the study, noted that several cases of crossbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans have been found in ancient DNA studies. However, it is suspected that the genetic mutation may have been created by hybridization sometime between 47,000 and 65,000 years ago.
Hugo Zeberg said: “The progesterone receptor is an example of how beneficial genetic variants that have been introduced into modern humans by mixed-race Neanderthals have an impact on people living today. “
When the researchers examined data from the Uk Biobank, 29 per cent of the 244,000 modern women carried a copy of the gene variant and 3 per cent carried two copies. The researchers found that women who carried the ancient Neanderthal gene variant had fewer miscarriages and fewer bleeding events than women who did not carry the ancient Neanderthal gene variant. The researchers also found that women with the gene were also found to have more siblings than women who did not, which they believed was a viable representation of increased fertility.
“The proportion of women who inherited this gene is about ten times that of most Neanderthal gene variants, ” Zeberg said. “These results suggest that Neanderthal receptor variants have a beneficial effect on fertility. “
The new findings are published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.