October 25, 2007
Some Neanderthals Were Redheads

Geico should run a cave man commercial with a red head cave man. Or one of the caveman TV show actors should have red hair.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Ancient DNA retrieved from the bones of two Neanderthals suggests that at least some of them had red hair and pale skin, scientists report this week in the journal Science. The international team says that Neanderthals' pigmentation may even have been as varied as that of modern humans, and that at least 1 percent of Neanderthals were likely redheads.

The scientists -- led by Holger Römpler of Harvard University and the University of Leipzig, Carles Lalueza-Fox of the University of Barcelona, and Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig -- extracted, amplified, and sequenced a pigmentation gene called MC1R from the bones of a 43,000-year-old Neanderthal from El Sidrón, Spain, and a 50,000-year-old individual from Monti Lessini, Italy.

"Together with other genes, this MC1R gene dictates hair and skin color in humans and other mammals," says Römpler, a postdoctoral researcher working with Hopi E. Hoekstra in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. "The two Neanderthal individuals we studied showed a point mutation not seen in modern humans. When we induced such a mutation in human cells, we found that it impaired MC1R activity, a condition that leads to red hair and pale skin in modern humans."

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 October 25 11:39 PM  Trends, Human Evolution

David Tufte said at October 27, 2007 7:57 PM:

Those interested in more might want to take a look at this 2004 post from voluntaryXchange (http://voluntaryxchange.typepad.com/voluntaryxchange/2004/05/neanderthal_gen.html), and this update (http://voluntaryxchange.typepad.com/voluntaryxchange/2007/10/red-hair-neande.html).

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