Artist’s reconstruction of a Neanderthal male, at the Neanderthal Museum, Germany (Credit: Stephan Sheer). Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Oct. 6, 2017 (The Conversation) -- Geneticists have now firmly established that roughly 2 percent of the DNA of all living non-African people comes from our Neanderthal cousins.
Scientists are learning a great deal now about how active this Neanderthal DNA is in our bodies and the role that it might be playing in determining how we look and behave as well as our susceptibility to certain diseases.
One of the very first features suggested as having a Neanderthal origin was red hair. A set of Neanderthal genes responsible for both light hair and skin color was identified by geneticists more than a decade ago and linked to human survival at high latitude, light poor, regions like Europe.
Because the Neanderthals had lived in Europe for several hundred thousand years, it was reasoned that natural selection gave them light skin and hair color helping to prevent diseases like rickets from occurring.
But as is so often the case in science, the situation is far more complicated than most of us would have imagined. Red hair wasn't inherited from Neanderthals at all. It now turns out they didn't even carry the gene for it!