May 16, 2021

"The sex of Neanderthals with other species shows that they were much more sociable than us" | Science

"The sex of Neanderthals with other species shows that they were much more sociable than us" | Science

The Neanderthals maintained relations with the homo sapiens. Not only social, also sexual. We know this because the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo (Stockholm, 1955) sequenced the genome of the remains of a girl found in the Altai Mountains, in Siberia, and proved that she was the daughter of a Neanderthal mother and father sapiens. According to Pääbo, this mixture confirms that our ancestors were much more sociable than us. "Two beings that were much more different from each other than we did with any other human had sexual relations and had children. That perfectly describes how different they were from modern humans, "he says.

For the rest, for this scientist, who is giving a talk this morning in Alicante, invited by the Institute of Neurosciences UMH-CSIC, to determine exactly if Sapiens and Neanderthals were different species is irrelevant. What counts is that part of our genetic code keeps traces of our immediate ancestors. "The Neanderthal influence can be seen throughout our entire genome," says Pääbo. Continually scientific studies appear that affect the inheritance Neanderthal of the genes related to "diabetes, skin or immune system diseases or spontaneous abortions". Also from them comes "resistance to diseases from the bacterium helicobacter pylori", which affects the stomach.

However, where less footprint has been left is in all the genetic part that affects the testicles. "That could indicate some negative aspect in reproduction," says Pääbo, who could explain the prevalence of sapiens against its predecessor, among other factors. "Maybe only the females ended up surviving", ventures the director of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), "and we know that they died much younger and their reproductive life was shorter". Although the technological capacity of modern humans seems much more determinant. "Neanderthal technology is homogeneous, it is the same in Spain as in Siberia", he explains, "but sapiens knew how to evolve very quickly and we can know the origin of a remainder only by its degree of technological advancement".

Pääbo is considered the father of paleogenetics and last year he received the Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research for his discoveries. Among others, those made with the material that is emerging in the site of Atapuerca burgalés. In your hands is the root of our family tree. Our oldest ancestor, about 430,000 years ago. Pääbo is confident that this year they will be able to decipher "10% of the genome of the man from Sima de los Huesos". "But we're not sure we can achieve it," he adds.

The Scandinavian biologist believes that "we are only at the beginning" of the scientific revolution that is born of the genome. But, at the same time, it admits that a certain "hype" has been generated [bombo mediático, podría ser la traducción] around DNA ". DNA to decipher our past, to discover the criminals, to understand every corner of the planet, as a panacea for all evils. "Genetics contains an important part of our history," he stresses, "but not all the information we have gathered as a species." "If I go to Greece, I'm shocked to be in the cradle of Western civilization, of democracy, of architecture," he says, "but not one of my genes has anything to do with Greece." Pääbo insists on taking pressure off his specialty. "The DNA found at the scene of a crime can tell you who the killer is, but in the genetic study of that same person, nothing is going to indicate that he can be a murderer."

In addition, the biologist warns that it is convenient to delimit the uses of knowledge of the genetic code. And it refers to the case of He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who announced the birth of the first genetically modified babies. "The general consensus in the scientific community is that you can not manipulate DNA in the germline," that is, in the embryonic pregnancy phase. The dangers are unknown, but "in the gestation of a genetically modified child, even a new species could be created", because "we do not know what repercussions the genome has on introducing a change in a single gene". In his opinion, the new genomic techniques should be dedicated exclusively "in therapeutic uses, to cure diseases."


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