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You Are What You Eat: Neanderthals, Woolly Mammoths Apparently Shared Genetic Traits

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Neanderthals have a lot more in common with woolly mammoths than just existing side by side with the creature in Europe during the Pleistocene epoch hundreds of thousands of years ago.

It may not look like it, but the two are linked on a very significant level genetically.

Study Reveals Similarities Between The Two

Mammoths evolved in Eurasia 600,000 years ago, while Neanderthals evolved in Europe 400,000 years ago. During the time the two mammals roamed the same environment, Neanderthals are believed to have consumed mammoths regularly.

However, this isn't the extent of the pair's relationship. Scientists find that the genetic profiles of these two extinct species also share molecular properties to adapt to cold surroundings.

"They say you are what you eat," Ran Barkai, study author and a professor at TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, says in a statement from the university. "This was especially true of Neanderthals; they ate mammoths but were apparently also genetically similar to mammoths."

In a new study published in the journal Human Biology, archaeologists from the Tel Aviv University reveal the molecular similarities between Neanderthals and woolly mammoths by studying three case studies.

These case studies of relevant gene variants and alleles associated with cold-climate adaptation in the genomes of Neanderthals and woolly mammoths. In the case studies, the scientists discovered significant similarities in the genes, particularly in thermogenesis, keratin protein activity, and skin and hair pigmentation.

Convergent Evolution Of Neanderthals, Mammoths

According to study author Meidad Kislev, the team's findings present the likelihood of resemblance between a number of molecular variants resulting in similarities of cold adaptation epigenetic traits of Neanderthals and woolly mammoths.

"These remarkable findings offer supporting evidence for the contention regarding the nature of convergent evolution through molecular resemblance, in which similarities in genetic variants between adapted species are present," Kislev continues, adding that the team believes the connections they discovered in the study will be valuable in future evolutionary research.

The ancestors of both species likely hailed from Africa and traveled to Europe, where they eventually adapted to environmental conditions of the Ice Age in Europe.

Neanderthals and woolly mammoths even went extinct around the same time.

"It is now possible to try to answer a question no one has asked before: Are there genetic similarities between evolutionary adaptation paths in Neanderthals and mammoths?" Barkai says. "The answer seems to be yes. This idea alone opens endless avenues for new research in evolution, archaeology and other disciplines."

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