A particular gene in humans leading to a taller nose from top to bottom was inherited from Neanderthals, a new research has found.
This may have been the product of natural selection as ancient humans adapted to colder climates after leaving Africa, researchers from the University College London (UCL), UK, said.
Having been passed down for thousands of generations, the researchers said in the study, they found that some DNA inherited from Neanderthals influenced the shape of our faces and that it could have been helpful to our ancestors.
In the last 15 years, since the Neanderthal genome has been sequenced, scientists have learnt that our ancestors apparently interbred with Neanderthals, leaving us with little bits of their DNA.
The scientists from UCL have published their international study in the journal Communications Biology.
Comparing genetic information from the participants to photographs of their faces, specifically looking at distances between points on their faces, such as the tip of the nose or the edge of the lips, the researchers saw how different facial traits were associated with the presence of different genetic markers.
The study used data from more than 6,000 volunteers across Latin America, of mixed European, Native American and African ancestry, who are part of the UCL-led CANDELA study, which recruited from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru.
The researchers newly identified 33 genome regions associated with face shape, 26 of which they were able to replicate in comparisons with data from other ethnicities using participants in east Asia, Europe, or Africa.
In one genome region in particular, called ATF3, the researchers found that many people in their study with Native American ancestry, as well as others with east Asian ancestry from another cohort, had genetic material in this gene that was inherited from the Neanderthals, contributing to increased nasal height.
They also found that this gene region had signs of natural selection, suggesting that it conferred an advantage for those carrying the genetic material.
"It has long been speculated that the shape of our noses is determined by natural selection; as our noses can help us to regulate the temperature and humidity of the air we breathe in, different shaped noses may be better suited to different climates that our ancestors lived in. The gene we have identified here may have been inherited from Neanderthals to help humans adapt to colder climates as our ancestors moved out of Africa," said first author Dr Qing Li, Fudan University, China.
"Most genetic studies of human diversity have investigated the genes of Europeans; our study's diverse sample of Latin American participants broadens the reach of genetic study findings, helping us to better understand the genetics of all humans," said co-corresponding author Andres Ruiz-Linares, UCL.
The study involved researchers based in the UK, China, France, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Germany, and Brazil.