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2019-01-03. Genetic data on half a million Brits reveal ongoing evolution and Neanderthal legacy.

posted Jan 5, 2019, 12:32 PM by Alan Gould
By Ann Gibbons, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/genetic-data-half-million-brits-reveal-ongoing-evolution-and-neanderthal-legacy] For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: Neanderthals are still among us, Janet Kelso realized 8 years ago. She had helped make the momentous discovery that Neanderthals repeatedly mated with the ancestors of modern humans—a finding that implies people outside of Africa still carry Neanderthal DNA today. Ever since then, Kelso has wondered exactly what modern humans got from those prehistoric liaisons—beyond babies. How do traces of the Neanderthal within shape the appearance, health, or personalities of living people? ...a few years ago, Kelso and her colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, turned to a new tool—the UK Biobank (UKB), a large database that holds genetic and health records for half a million British volunteers. The researchers analyzed data from 112,338 of those Britons—enough that "we could actually look and say: ‘We see a Neanderthal version of the gene and we can measure its effect on phenotype in many people—how often they get sunburned, what color their hair is, and what color their eyes are,’" Kelso says. They found Neanderthal variants that boost the odds that a person smokes, is an evening person rather than a morning person, and is prone to sunburn and depression. ...When it comes to natural selection in humans, most studies have only been able to detect dramatic cases thousands or millions of years ago in genes of known function. Now, Pickrell and Przeworski wondered whether they could detect genetic variants that affect survival today—and whether natural selection in recent generations has been weeding out harmful ones or favoring beneficial ones....