The mythical, mysterious 1%

by DRM

I, for one, welcome my Neandertal ancestry.

It may not sound like a lot — between 1 and 4 percent. But that’s the equivalent of one great-great-great grandparent’s DNA contribution. In the case of the Neandertal contribution, more than 1500 generations ago, it’s an enduring legacy of an ancient group of people, spread across many lines of the genealogies of living people. Beyond their genealogical interest, Neandertal genes might have made a big difference to our evolutionary potential.

Think that the idea of man being related to monkeys makes some people’s heads spin? How are they going to manage the idea of having a bunch of savage ancestors?

This blog post from John Hawks gives one of the clearer general summaries of a research paper that traces our genetic cross-over with our Neandertal ancestors. (You’ll find the research embedded all over the web. For instance, here’s economist Mark Thoma’s refreshing free association between the Neandertal research and challenges in the study of economics.)

Which way have the genes propagated? What activities occurred, between who? We’re like a family that starts trading stories about a distant cousin. The scandals are titillating and strangely recognizable.

The nature of man isn’t pure. There is no pre-cut mold, perfect model, static image. The potential of man is a work build on the shoulders of others. It can’t be achieved alone. There is no perfection, only ideals. Our sense of self is an eddy in the endless stream of mankind.

If 1% of our genes are shared with some neandertal ancestor, then some 1% of us will be shared some 300,000 years hence. We’re just in a moment.