Register for updates

 
 

Archaeology
RSS Feed
Woolly Mammoths and Neanderthals May Have Shared Genetic Traits
Monday, April 08, 2019 10:08:00 AM

Findings point to molecular resemblance in climate adaptation traits of the two species, TAU researchers say

A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that the genetic profiles of two extinct mammals with African ancestry — woolly mammoths, elephant-like animals that evolved in the arctic peninsula of Eurasia around 600,000 years ago, and Neanderthals, highly skilled early humans who evolved in Europe around 400,000 years ago — shared molecular characteristics of adaptation to cold environments.

The research attributes the human-elephant relationship during the Pleistocene epoch to their mutual ecology and shared living environments, in addition to other possible interactions between the two species. The study was led by Prof. Ran Barkai and Meidad Kislev of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and published on April 8 in Human Biology.

"Neanderthals and mammoths lived together in Europe during the Ice Age. The evidence suggests that Neanderthals hunted and ate mammoths for tens of thousands of years and were actually physically dependent on calories extracted from mammoths for their successful adaptation," says Prof. Barkai. "Neanderthals depended on mammoths for their very existence.

"They say you are what you eat. This was especially true of Neanderthals; they ate mammoths but were apparently also genetically similar to mammoths."

To assess the degree of resemblance between mammoth and Neanderthal genetic components, the archaeologists reviewed three case studies of relevant gene variants and alleles — alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome — associated with cold-climate adaptation found in the genomes of both woolly mammoths and Neanderthals.

The first case study outlined the mutual appearance of the LEPR gene, related to thermogenesis and the regulation of adipose tissue and fat storage throughout the body. The second case study engaged genes related to keratin protein activity in both species. The third case study focused on skin and hair pigmentation variants in the genes MC1R and SLC7A11.

"Our observations present the likelihood of resemblance between numerous molecular variants that resulted in similar cold-adapted epigenetic traits of two species, both of which evolved in Eurasia from an African ancestor," Kislev explains. "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.

"We believe these types of connections can be valuable for future evolutionary research. They're especially interesting when they involve other large-brained mammals, with long life spans, complex social behavior and their interactions in shared habitats with early humans."

According to the study, both species likely hailed from ancestors that came to Europe from Africa and adapted to living conditions in Ice Age Europe. The species also both became extinct more or less at 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?" Prof. Barkai says. "The answer seems to be yes. This idea alone opens endless avenues for new research in evolution, archaeology and other disciplines.

"At a time when proboscideans are under threat of disappearance from the world due to the ugly human greed for ivory, highlighting our shared history and similarities with elephants and mammoths might be a point worth taking into consideration."




Latest News

Study Finds Prehistoric Humans Ate Bone Marrow Like Canned Soup 400,000 Years Ago

Bone and skin preserved the nutritious marrow for later consumption, TAU researchers say.

TAU and Ichilov Researchers Develop Innovative Treatment for Familial Adenomatous Polyposis

Adolescents and young adults with the inherited disorder bear a high risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Engineered T Cells May Be Harnessed to Kill Solid Tumor Cells

Novel immunotherapy extends therapy now used in fighting leukemia, TAU researchers say.

Researchers Discover How a Protein Connecting Calcium and Plant Hormone Regulates Plant Growth

Mechanism enables plants to adapt their development to their environment, TAU researchers say.

LocalTAU Top Scientists Move Closer to Securing Pilot Program in Miami

Fellows from competition return to Miami to present at marine health summit and participate in high-level meetings.

TAU Researchers Discover Evidence of Biblical Kingdom of Edom in Arava Desert

Findings also suggest pharaoh's influence on Edom turned kingdom into copper powerhouse, say TAU researchers.

Business and Civic Leader Mort Mandel Awarded TAU Honorary Doctorate

Mr. Mandel cited for his visionary philanthropy and establishment of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for STEM and the Humanities at TAU.

Early Humans Used Tiny, Flint "Surgical" Tools to Butcher Elephants

New discovery by TAU-led research group suggests early humans in the Levant were sophisticated and environmentally conscious.

TAU Ranks Among Top 10 Undergraduate Programs Producing Most Venture Capital-Backed Entrepreneurs

Joining Stanford, UC Berkeley, and MIT, TAU is the only non-U.S. university to make top 10 of global VC list.

Protein Mapping Pinpoints Why Most Metastatic Melanoma Patients Do Not Respond to Immunotherapy

Lipid metabolism found to affect cancer cells' visibility to the immune system, say TAU, Sheba Medical Center researchers.

contentSecondary
c

© 2019 American Friends of Tel Aviv University
39 Broadway, Suite 1510 | New York, NY 10006 | 212.742.9070 | info@aftau.org
Privacy policy | Tel Aviv University