If you’re interested in learning more information about your family tree than you can get from relatives or searching through historical documents in courthouses and libraries, one popular way to do it these days is to take a genetic ancestry test. As this ancestry testing primer from the National Institutes of Health explains, companies that provide the service will compare your DNA sample to databases that they’ve compiled from previous tests, and look for clues that can help to figure out your roots. Such analyses employ tools such as single nucleotide polymorphism testing, which evaluates large numbers of variations across a person’s genome. A particular pattern might indicate, for example, that a person’s ancestry is X percent African, Y percent European and Z percent Asian. But what about a different species altogether?
But in addition to telling you what part of the world your ancestors came from, a few genetic testing services also will tell you what portion of your genetic blueprint comes from a different hominin species altogether: Homo neanderthalisensis. After migrating from Africa, members of our species Homo sapiens may have first encountered Neanderthals in the Middle East 50,000 to 50,000 years ago, and apparently interbred frequently with them until the Neanderthal species went extinct about 40,000 years ago. Almost all humans who aren’t of sub-Saharan African ancestry have some Neanderthal DNA, according to Tony Capra, an assistant biological sciences professor at Vanderbilt University and a member of the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute. Typically, the Neanderthal portion amounts to about 2 percent of a person’s genome.
If you’re curious about your Neanderthal ancestry, at least two of the popular consumer DNA ancestry testing outfits — 23andMe and Geno 2.0 — offer screening for Neanderthal DNA as part of their service.
A company spokesperson for 23andMe who asked not to…