Book section Open Access
Strong evidence for introgression of Neanderthal genes into parts of the modern human gene pool has recently emerged. The evidence indicates that some popula- tions of modern humans have received infusions of genes from two different groups of Neanderthals. One of these Neanderthal groups lived in the Middle East and Central Europe and the other group (the Denisovans) is known to have lived in Central Asia and was probably more widespread. This review examines two questions. First, how were these introgressions detected and what does the genetic evidence tell us about their nature and extent? We will see that an unknown but possibly large fraction of the entire Neanderthal gene complement may have survived in modern humans. Even though each modern European and Asian carries only a few percent of genes that can be traced back to Neanderthals, different individuals carry different subgroups of these introgressed genes. Second, what is the likelihood that this Neanderthal genetic legacy has had phenotypic effects on modern humans? We examine evidence for and against the possibility that some of the surviving fragments of Neanderthal genomes have been preserved by natural selection, and we explore the ways in which more evidence bearing on this question will become available in the future.