Saturday, November 12, 2016

Speaking of "in their own image"

Recognize these guys? They are what remains of a couple of Neanderthals .... they might be among your ancestors. That might explain a lot of things, might it not ?? ..... yep, it might .... but, you probably never will know for certain because their names definitely will not turn up on any genealogical website.

Do you ever wonder
what it was like
to have been one of them ??

(Editor's Note: I did not write either of these "segments." I am unabashedly reprinting them without proper credits, but with hopes no one will care or that I will be immune from any blame or fault, à la the Hillary syndrome: Who, me ?? Whatever .... sorry to keep harping about this sort of study -- this very real genetic link from hominoid and even before to we who walk the Earth today -- but, I think it is fascinating and I believe predestination might be more relevant than ever imagined by religious "entrepreneurs" such as John Calvin: Turn loose the genie .... whoops, I mean the gene.)

Segment No. 1: The first draft of the sequence of the Neanderthal genome was published in 2010, and one might think that it would tell us everything we need to know about the genetic differences between modern humans and our closest evolutionary cousins -- Neanderthals.

But, it turns out the raw genetic code is only half the story. Just as important is epigenetics -- features of the genome that determine which genes are active and which are inactive, factors that can in turn have a dramatic effect on one's traits.

Now, researchers from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, where the original sequencing took place, have found an ingenious way to investigate Neanderthal epigenetics. Their findings have provided tantalizing clues to how the bodies and brains of modern humans have evolved since splitting from Neanderthals several hundred thousand years ago.

The usual methods for determining whether genes are active or inactive are highly destructive and cannot be used on scarce Neanderthal genetic material. Instead, the researchers managed to detect telltale epigenetic signs in the Neanderthal genome based on the insight that certain portions of ancient DNA tend to be misread in a distinctive way by DNA sequencers.

This reading of Neanderthal epigenetics produced a number of novel results. Two genes involved in determining body shape turned out to be highly inactivated in Neanderthals and highly activated in humans. This could help explain why Neanderthals have thicker hands, wider knee and elbow joints, and shorter limbs.

"These genes are identical between us and Neanderthals," says Liran Carmel of Hebrew University. "So we are convinced we have found a region where only the epigenetics is different."

Many genes associated with diseases -- in particular psychiatric and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, autism, and schizophrenia -- also appear to be activated in modern humans, but not Neanderthals.

Carmel says the activation of these genes may have produced an evolutionary catch-22: bestowing a benefit, perhaps by changing the wiring of our brains, but also introducing an increased risk of disease.

Segment No. 2: "Live Science" reports that evolutionary biologist Ivan Juric of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues want to know why modern humans carry so few Neanderthal genes.

A large population of modern humans and a small Neanderthal population are thought to have interbred thousands of years ago, but very little Neanderthal DNA has survived in the modern human genome. It had been suggested that many of the offspring of Neanderthals and modern humans failed to thrive, or were infertile.

Juric's team developed a computer model to simulate the effects of natural selection on the distance between segments of Neanderthal DNA and modern human genes, since less Neanderthal DNA has been found in regions close to modern human genes than in the inactive areas between genes.

The results of the simulation suggest that Neanderthal gene variants are being slowly removed by natural selection. Now Juric wants to know which gene variants contributed by extinct human relatives have been deleted from the modern human genome.

"Once we know more about the genes involved, we can ask what those genes do and what traits they are involved with in modern humans," he said. "Then, we might be able to make some guesses about the traits of those early human-Neanderthal hybrids."

(Postscript: Once again, science makes more sense than does religion in terms of explaining what we are and who we are, which does not mean religion does not have the potential for even greater importance and relevance than science. Anyway .... I hope you read these few sentences .... they might help you toward a greater understanding of you .... yourself .... your actual self .... although nothing seems to answer the question of why you are -- why such a creature as yourself even exists .... and, if you are anything more than dust in the wind.)

1 comment:

Fram Actual said...

I think -- not because I am -- but because we have passed my twenty-four-hour rule and because I do want to continue this "discussion" with myself, even if with no one else, in more detail at a later date .... so, I think I will shut down the comment element to this post.

There are magical, mystical, spiritual, iconic and a whole bunch of other adjectives which apply to four "objects" on earth from my point of view. I have written about them before: Weapons (guns now), coins, watches, books. In any order. All are inanimate, which means little to me because, as I also have written before, my world view revolves around a manitou concept in which each object, animate and inanimate, has within it a force of something which resembles living, sensing (if not actually reasoning) life. All right, you can quit laughing now.

Anyway (baby), I keep wondering when, exactly, souls entered the picture. Along what point in the evolutionary chain did the creatures which became modern man (sorry, I still think in terms of men and women together forming humankind, AKA, mankind) develop a soul? Hmmmm? Answer me that. I assume someone in the laboratory atop Mount Olympus or across the rainbow bridge in Asgard or wherever made a notation of that event on the calendar: As of today, the creatures also have souls !!

Did Neanderthals have souls/spirits ?? Did Denisovans ??

Anyway (again), I will write more about this because it is fascinating (to me, and, sort of haunting). I hope you do read these "segments" and think about them a bit ....

Something special ....