Why did Neanderthals go extinct? This was the ‘secret weapon’ of our species

The article, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry (Nature), points out that these genes played a fundamental role in the evolution of creativity, self-awareness and cooperativity, giving modern humans a great advantage over hominids that are now extinct, by proportionally greater resistance to aging, injury and disease through a greater ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Genes related to personality

In previous work, the team of scientists had identified a set of more than 900 genes that are related to personality in healthy adults, and that are organized into three genetic networks that have evolved in a staggered fashion. “The most primitive arose in monkeys and apes about 40 million years ago, and is responsible for emotional reactivity, that is, it regulates impulses, learning habits, social attachment and conflict resolution.”Explain the authors. Less than 2 million years ago the second network emerged, which regulates intentional self-control, that is, self-direction and cooperation for mutual benefit. Finally, about 100,000 years ago the network of creative self-awareness.

In the article just published, the authors indicate that the oldest network is almost identical in Neanderthals, chimpanzees, and in our own species. However, the genes for self-control and self-awareness of Neanderthals were halfway between those of chimpanzees and Homo sapiens.

Most of these 267 genes that distinguish modern humans from Neanderthals and chimpanzees are RNA regulatory genes and not protein-coding genes. The latter are almost all the same in the three species and this research shows that what distinguishes them is the regulation of the expression of their proteins by genes found only in humans. Using genetic markers, gene expression data and brain magnetic resonance imaging integrated based on artificial intelligence techniques, the scientists were able to identify the regions in which those genes and the genes with which they interacted were overexpressed. These regions are involved in human self-awareness and creativity, including those regions strongly associated with human well-being and of recent phylogenetic emergence.

Long, healthier lives

According to the authors, thanks to these genes, Homo sapiens had greater physical fitness and better withstanding aging and disease. By living longer, they also had more time to accumulate knowledge, and in turn creativity would allow them to have a greater capacity for innovation and to seek new solutions to complex problems, as well as to cooperate with their peers. A set of skills that would allow the H. sapiens lineage to spread around the world more successfully than its peers.