Natural selection may have resulted in a gene that results in a taller nose as ancient humans adapted to cold.
New research suggests that the shape of our noses may be determined by genetic material inherited from Neanderthals.
Neanderthals are an extinct species that lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago. Scientists believe they interbred with Homo sapiens, which means some of their DNA is still present in modern humans.
Researchers suggest that DNA passed down from Neanderthals influenced the shape of modern human faces. The nose is one area of particular interest, which scientists believe evolved as ancient humans adapted to colder climates after leaving Africa.
“In the last 15 years, since the Neanderthal genome has been sequenced, we have been able to learn that our own ancestors apparently interbred with Neanderthals, leaving us with little bits of their DNA,” Co-corresponding author Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment and The Open University, said.
“Here, we find that some DNA inherited from Neanderthals influences the shape of our faces.”
“This could have been helpful to our ancestors, as it has been passed down for thousands of generations,” the author added.
The study analysed data from over 6,000 Latin Americans of mixed European, Native American, and African ancestry. The Candela study, led by UCL, drew participants from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.
Scientists discovered 33 new genome regions associated with human face shape after comparing genetic information from those involved with photographs of their faces.
The researchers discovered that many people in their study with Native American ancestry had genetic material in this gene that was inherited from the Neanderthals in one particular genome region called ATF3.
It was also discovered in people of East Asian ancestry from another group.
This genetic material, according to the researchers, contributed to increased nasal height.
The study, published in Communications Biology, is the second discovery of DNA from ancient human ancestors, distinct from homo sapiens, affecting our face shape, according to the researchers.
In a 2021 paper, the same team discovered that a gene influencing lip shape was inherited from the ancient Denisovans.