Woolly mammoths and Neanderthals shared the same DNA to grow thick hair, store fat and generate heat to allow them to survive cold weather
- Neanderthals hunted mammoths for tens of thousands of years in the ice age
- Scientists found shared traits in genes associated with heat regulation
- They also discovered genes used for increased production of skin and hair
Ancient humans and elephants shared DNA that allowed them to adapt to the bitterly cold prehistoric environments, scientists have shown.
Three studies looking at genes found in both the now-extinct species and found evidence of DNA that regulates heat generation, fat storage increases hair and skin growth.
Neanderthals and woolly mammoths lived alongside each other during the European ice age, and their genes evolved in a similar way to adapt to the cold conditions.
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Ancient humans and elephants shared DNA that allowed them to adapt to the same cold and harsh European environments. Three studies looking at gene specific similarities found these in DNA that regulates heat generation, fat storage, and hair and skin growth
A new study, published in the journal Human Biology, suggests that the genetic profiles of two extinct mammals the woolly mammoths and Neanderthals, shared characteristics of adaptation to cold environments at the DNA and molecular level.
Both species have African ancestry but whereas the woolly mammoths evolved in Africa and before moving across to Europe around 500,000 years ago, the Neanderthals fully evolved in Europe.
During the ice age in Europe they lived alongside each other under harsh and cold conditions.
The Neanderthals and woolly mammoths lived alongside each other during the European ice age, and their genes evolved in a similar way to adapt to the cold conditions. A comparison of the Neanderthal man and a modern male human is shown above
This means they would have been in physical contact under the same environment, said Professor Ran Barkai, at the department of archaeology at Tel Aviv: ‘Neanderthals and mammoths lived together in Europe during the Ice Age.
‘The evidence suggests that Neanderthals hunted and ate mammoths for tens of thousands of years and were actually physically dependent on calories extracted from mammoths for their successful adaptation.
‘They say you are what you eat This was especially true of Neanderthals; they ate mammoths but were apparently also genetically similar to mammoths.’
‘Are there genetic similarities between evolutionary adaptation paths in Neanderthals and mammoths?
‘The answer seems to be yes. This idea alone opens endless avenues for new research in evolution, archaeology and other disciplines.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE WOOLLY MAMMOTH?
The woolly mammoth roamed the icy tundra of Europe and North America for 140,000 years, disappearing at the end of the Pleistocene period, 10,000 years ago.
They are one of the best understood prehistoric animals known to science because their remains are often not fossilised but frozen and preserved.
Males were around 12 feet (3.5m) tall, while the females were slightly smaller.
Curved tusks were up to 16 feet (5m) long and their underbellies boasted a coat of shaggy hair up to 3 feet (1m) long.
Tiny ears and short tails prevented vital body heat being lost.
Their trunks had ‘two fingers’ at the end to help them pluck grass, twigs and other vegetation.
The Woolly Mammoth is are one of the best understood prehistoric animals known to science because their remains are often not fossilised but frozen and preserved (artist’s impression)
They get their name from the Russian ‘mammut’, or earth mole, as it was believed the animals lived underground and died on contact with light – explaining why they were always found dead and half-buried.
Their bones were once believed to have belonged to extinct races of giants.
Woolly mammoths and modern-day elephants are closely related, sharing 99.4 per cent of their genes.
The two species took separate evolutionary paths six million years ago, at about the same time humans and chimpanzees went their own way.
Woolly mammoths co-existed with early humans, who hunted them for food and used their bones and tusks for making weapons and art.
Neanderthals are commonly thought to have relied on dangerous close range hunting techniques, using non-projectile weapons like the thrusting spears depicted here.
WHO WERE THE NEANDERTHALS?
The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving across to Europe around 500,000 years ago.
They were later joined by humans taking the same journey some time in the past 100,000 years.
The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor – that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit
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The study suggest that the genetic similarities date back to the ancient African origins and may explain why some similar adaptations occurred on the genetic level.
The two species would have faced similar adaptive pressures and the scientists have evidence this happened at the genetic level.
The scientists studied three genes associated with climate adaptions.
In their first study, the scientists found the LEPR gene, related to thermogenesis and the regulation of adipose tissue and fat storage throughout the body was present in both species.
The second case study engaged genes related to keratin protein activity in both species.
The third case study focused on skin and hair pigmentation variants in the genes MC1R and SLC7A11.
Professor Barkai added: ‘At a time when proboscideans are under threat of disappearance from the world due to the ugly human greed for ivory, highlighting our shared history and similarities with elephants and mammoths might be a point worth taking into consideration.’