A new study from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany shows the prehistoric gene and identifies its role in fertility and pregnancy. It’s long been known that Neanderthal humans weren’t the apelike morons who died of stupidity as depicted by Hollywood! They didn’t actually spend their time clubbing each other and dragging females around by the hair! They had a culture as complex and vibrant as any modern human tribe that ever arose.
The cliché The reality
Genetic material is significant for fertility
Neanderthals were most abundant about 130,000 years ago. They settled throughout Europe and Asia, but about 40,000 years ago they died out. No one really knows why, although climate change may have played a part. They were replaced by us; the modern humans known as homo sapiens. And the word replace is correct. We didn’t evolve from them, probably sharing only 1.5%-2% of genetic material. But this small amount of genetic material is significant, especially in fertility.
This new study claims that around 33% of women living in Europe carry a gene from Neanderthals that increases fertility. It can also reduce the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. The gene known as PGR is found on the number 11 chromosome. It is responsible for building the progesterone receptor, which is extremely important for aspects of fertility and pregnancy.
Progesterone prepares the body for pregnancy
When progesterone binds to this receptor the body knows to prepare the uterus for implantation. Progesterone is also involved in stimulation of the mammary glands during pregnancy. It is also thought to have a role as a neuro steroid in the brain that prepares women for motherhood.
The scientists studied biobank data showing the medical records and DNA of more than 450,000 participants across Europe. Molecular analyses of the women with this gene found they produce more progesterone receptors in their cells. The researchers suggest this may lead to increased sensitivity to progesterone and protection against early miscarriages and bleeding. They say 29% of the population studied carry one copy of the Neanderthal receptor gene and 3% have two copies. Women with the gene are also likely to have more children over their lifetimes.
Professor Hugo Zeberg, Karolinska Institute commented, “The proportion of women who inherited this gene is about ten times greater than for most Neanderthal gene variants. These findings suggest that the Neanderthal variant of the receptor has a favourable effect on fertility.”
How long ago did modern humans acquire the gene from their Neanderthal counterparts?
Around 65,000 years ago, apparently as a result of rare cases of interbreeding.
What does it mean today?
It seems that having this gene could help women maintain pregnancies that may have lost without it.
Professor Zeberg added, “The progesterone receptor is an example of how favourable genetic variants were introduced into modern humans by mixing with Neanderthals. This is having effects on people living today.”
This would explain how the gene is now found in a third of women rather than the expected 1%. The women who carry the gene are more likely to have more children than those who didn’t. And this allowed the gene to proliferate over thousands of years.