Five matings for moderns, Neandertals

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Science  18 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6279, pp. 1250-1251
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6279.1250

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Neandertals and modern humans had a far richer sexual past than previously thought​, involving at least five encounters at different times and places over the past 60,000 years, according to a paper published online in Science this week. By studying the genetic legacy left by these ancient trysts—and developing powerful new statistical methods​ to analyze genomes—an international team has identified how often and on which continents modern humans, Neandertals, and a second kind of archaic human called the Denisovans met and mated. T​he researchers conclude that if you're an East Asian, you have three different Neandertals in your family tree; Europeans and South Asians have two, and Melanesians, only one. (Africans' ancestors, who did not mate with Neandertals, have none.) The genes transferred to modern genomes as a result of this ancient sex include those involved in the immune system and metabolism, which may have helped modern humans adapt to new diseases, diets, and climates as they moved into Neandertal territory in Europe and Asia.