Scientists believe that modern Europeans share a number of genes involved in the build-up of certain types of fat with Neanderthals.
An international team of researchers led by Philipp Khaitovich of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that DNA sequences shared between modern humans and Neanderthals are specifically enriched in genes involved in the metabolic breakdown of lipids.
This sharing of genes is seen mainly in contemporary humans of European descent and may have given a selective advantage to the individuals with the Neanderthal variants, media reports said.
These ancient genes might have helped Europeans adapt better to colder climates, giving them an evolutionary advantage.
Neanderthals and modern humans are thought to have co-existed for thousands of years and interbred, meaning Europeans now have roughly 2 per cent Neanderthal DNA.
“This is the first time we have seen differences in lipid concentrations between populations,” evolutionary biologist Philipp Khaitovich was quoted as saying.
How our brains are built differently of lipids might be due to Neanderthal DNA, he added.
“We do not know what these lipid concentration changes do to the brain but the fact that Neanderthal variants might have changed our brain composition has interesting implications,” Khaitovich added.