Scientists say ‘single amino acid’ may explain major cognitive shift from neanderthals to humans

Explanation for greatly increased brain function has eluded science for years

Updated: September 10, 2022 - 7:45pm

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Modern human beings have "more neocortex to work with" as a result of just one amino acid, scientists say in a new study that may explain a major mystery that has eluded evolutionary researchers for years.

A team of scientists based mostly in Germany this week published their findings in the journal Science in which they determined that "a single amino acid change" many thousands of years ago "drove more generation of neuroprogenitors" in evolutionarily modern humans that set them apart from their Neanderthal cousins. 

The scientists argue that "the modern human has more neocortex to work with than the ancient Neanderthal did," giving the former a distinct evolutionary advantage over the latter. 

Neanderthals in the archeological record disappear from the Earth about 40,000 years ago. Experts have argued that increased competition from smarter, more advantageously disposed humans may have contributed to their extinction.

Geneticists have identified a wide variety of genes left over from Neanderthalic lineages still present in modern humanity, suggesting there was significant cross-breeding among Neanderthal and human tribes prior to the former’s obliteration. 

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