News - April 2001
be directly descended from Neanderthal man.
William Wallace to the goalposts at Wembley, Scots have a fearsome
reputation for causing trouble.
a team of scientists may have discovered the explanation-we inherited
in evolution from Oxford say the key lies in the red hair for which
Celts are famous.
team studied the origins of the gene which causes red hair and discovered
it is older than the first Homo Sapien settlers to come to Europe
from Africa around 30,000 years ago.
strongly suggests the gene must have been present in Neanderthal
man, who was living in Europe long before the arrival of Homo Sapiens.
The Oxford team says this points to interbreeding between Neanderthals
and the new settlers, an idea which has previously been dismissed.
It was originally believed that Homo Sapiens, because they were
more sophisticated, simply drove out the Neanderthals to the point
where they became extinct. The conclusion the team draws is that
the red hair, freckles and pale skin which characterise Scots are
most likely the genetic legacy of a long-dead species, known for
being hairy and having prominent brows and receding foreheads. Around
10% of Scots are redheads, while an additional 40% of the population
with other hair colourings carry the gene responsible for red hair.
Rosalind Harding, of the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the
John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, calculated the age of the ginger
version of the gene, known as the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R),
by using a complex model that looked at its mutation rate.
found that the gene was present 100,000 years ago-at least 70,000
years before Homo Sapiens' migration into Europe from Africa. Harding
maintains that the gene could not have originated in the sweltering
heat of Africa, because natural selection would not have allowed
the survival of a trait that predisposes humans to skin cancer.
have revealed that carriers of the gene are five times more sensitive
to ultraviolet light than others and therefore far more likely to
contract skin cancer. Given that the gene is so much older than
the earliest anthropological records of Stone Age Homo Sapiens,
who were responsible for the spectacular cave paintings produced
around 30,000 years ago, Harding believes that MC1R must have originated
in the Neanderthals.
gene is certainly older than 50,000 years and it could be as old
as 100,000 years," she said. "An explanation is that it comes from
the Neanderthals-the other people that were here before modern man
came out of Africa."
believes that the prevalence of the ginger gene in so many of today's
population provides evidence that early Homo sapiens bred with the
Neanderthals and that many of today's humans are descended from
unions between the two species.
does that mean it is possible that Scottish redheads are directly
descended from the Neanderthals? "It seems to be the logical conclusion
to what I am saying," said Harding. "But I don't know if people
are going to like me for saying that."
Scotsman Publications Ltd.
SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY 15/04/2001