June 22, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Neanderthal Fails Again as Evolutionary Link

Another Attempt to Resurrect the Once-Prized Evolutionary Link
Between Apes and Modern Humans Fails Again

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

For over a century, one of the most prized links between humans and our putative ape ancestors was Neanderthal Man. Although the “politically correct” wording now is that “humans and apes both descended from a common ancestor,” that ancestor had to be, for all practical purposes, some kind of hypothetical ape. For popular consumption, the media often claim openly that humans evolved from apes. For example, see the 2001 cover story in Time Magazine titled, “How Apes Became Human” (Figure 1).[1]

Figure 1. Time cover from July 2001.

Another example shows what is clearly a chimp and a human baby on a Time Magazine cover claiming, under the picture, “How We Became Human,” that “Chimps and humans share almost 99% of their DNA.”[2] As far as I am aware, Time has never published an apology admitting this long-disproved claim touted on its cover is false.[3] The 99% figure is a myth that has now become part of evolutionary folklore used as propaganda to push the belief that humans evolved from apes – specifically chimpanzees.

Figure 2: Time cover, Oct 2006.

Although the number often stated ranges from 96% to 99%, the actual genetic similarity of chimps and modern humans is closer to 85%. This translates to close to half-a-billion genetic differences existing between chimps and humans. Even in evolutionary population genetics, it is inconceivable that so many differences could become fixed in the time allowed in their system.

Another Time cover shows a Homo erectus man (Figure 3) with prominent brow-ridges and sloping forehead that have also been trademark features of Neanderthals. The caption states, “How Man Began: Fossil Bones from the Dawn of Humanity are Rewriting the Story of Evolution.”[4] These showy covers have been standard fare in many publications, including National Geographic.

Can’t Let Go of a Disproved Myth

Evidence has mounted for decades now that Neanderthals were just another people group within Homo sapiens (9 March 2021). This became clear when Neanderthal DNA was discovered in the modern human genome, proving that we are members of the same species (31 May 2021). Evolutionists, however, are reluctant to give up on the old story. Some keep looking for differences they can magnify.

A new attempt from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow, associated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims that scientists have discovered  “a new feature that distinguishes modern humans from Neanderthals.”[5] What is it? The researchers discovered that the modern human genome has a

mutation which makes the adenylosuccinate lyase enzyme less stable, leading to a decrease in purine synthesis. This mutation did not occur in Neanderthals, so the scientists believe that it affected metabolism in brain tissues and thereby strongly contributed to modern humans evolving into a separate species.[6] [Bold added.]

Exactly how this mutation “contributed to modern humans evolving into a separate species” is never explained. The authors merely assume that it supports the Darwinian story, which teaches that the

predecessors of modern humans split from their closest evolutionary relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, about 600,000 years ago, while the evolutionary divergence between our ancestors and those of modern chimpanzees dates as far back as 6.5 million years ago. Evolutionary biologists are after the particular genetic features that distinguish modern humans from their ancestors and may give a clue as to why humans are what they are.[7]

Figure 3. Time cover of Homo erectus.

The empirical part of the study involved genetic comparisons. In this case, the scientists looked at the total number of metabolites present within a cell or tissue called a metabolome. They analyzed human, chimpanzee, and macaque tissue from muscle, kidney and three different brain regions.[8] The scientists included in their research the published genomes of Neanderthal and Denisovan humans, noting that fully 90 percent of these two human groups fall within the variation of present-day humans. Ironically, they noted of the samples they analyzed, that the “number of proteins that carry amino acid substitutions [differences] in all or almost all humans that differ from Neandertals and apes is … only about one hundred.”[9] In brief, this finding does not divide Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans; it unites them. It demonstrates the similarity of all three people groups.

The analytical profiling technique used is called Metabolomics, which involves measuring and comparing large numbers of metabolites (a substance formed in, or necessary for, metabolism) in select biological samples. Then they used high-throughput (HT) analytical chemistry and multivariate data analysis to compare metabolic mechanisms. High-throughput analysis involves the analysis of hundreds, or even thousands, of samples in the laboratory. What they found was a mutation that caused reduced purine biosynthesis in humans compared to Neanderthals.[10] Given the reliability of the technique, we can be fairly confident that the results are valid. The question is, what does it mean?

Does the Research Indicate Human Genomic Degeneration?

The research team focused on the

mutation that leads to amino acid substitution in adenylosuccinate lyase, an enzyme involved in the synthesis of purine inside DNA. This substitution reduces the enzyme’s activity and stability, which results in a lower concentration of purines in the human brain. The team showed that the new mutation is typical for humans only and does not appear in other primates or Neanderthals. The researchers proved that this mutation is indeed the reason for the metabolic peculiarities in humans by introducing it into the mouse genome. The mice subjected to mutation produced fewer purines, whereas an ancestral gene, when introduced into human cells, led to apparent metabolic changes.[11]

The researchers determined that the “mutation is responsible for much or all of the difference in purine biosynthesis observed when human tissues are compared to ape and monkey tissues, . . . .” Furthermore,

“mice subjected to [the] mutation produced fewer purines, …  when introduced into human cells, . . .  compared to ape and monkey tissues…. mutations in humans that affect enzymes involved in purine metabolism have more pathological consequences in the nervous system than in other organs.”[12]

Thus, rather than documenting a difference that might be responsible for the superior human brain compared to ape and monkey brains, it appears that this mutation has “pathological consequences in the nervous system.” The details of this were not specified. How the findings could be construed as an example of a significant difference between modern humans and Neanderthals is unclear. Did the researchers analyze large samples of Neanderthal tissue from muscle, kidney, and three different brain regions as was done for the other samples to determine this? Was the sample they analyzed typical of all Neanderthals or a certain cell line of Neanderthals?  These questions are difficult or impossible to answer, given that the Neanderthals as a separate people group are extinct.

Major Problems with the Study

The team has admitted one major problem with their conclusions. Although a large number of traits are unique to humans, such as language,[13] it “has proven difficult to identify the genetic and biological underpinnings of such traits. One reason may be that many of them [the underpinnings] are genetically complex.” If anything, the findings document increasing mutational burden in humans – i.e., genetic entropy – compared to apes and monkeys.

Aside from claiming that a genetic difference existed, the authors did not even speculate on any possible advantage of the mutation in modern humans. It certainly does not provide evidence that Neanderthals were inferior in any way. In fact, it indicates the opposite.

Media Keep Pushing a Narrative

Evolutionary theory requires variations and progress, with some variations more “fit” than others. The headlines of the Time Magazine articles shown above assert that humans evolved from Neanderthals; thus, logically, Neanderthals had to be inferior evolutionary ancestors. That thinking goes on today. One headline describing the current research described above reads: “New Feature That Contributed to Modern Humans Evolving Away From Neanderthals Is Discovered.”[14] The article adds, “This mutation did not occur in Neanderthals, so the scientists believe that it affected metabolism in brain tissues and thereby strongly contributed to modern humans evolving into a separate species.”[15] Exactly how it contributed to human evolution was never mentioned in this article. It is an exaggeration that took the flimsiest of evidence to support a preconceived belief.

Artists have long portrayed Neanderthals as primitive brutes. The myth of the caveman has been too useful for evolutionists to give it up.

Summary

News headlines continue to hype any details that might show Neanderthals being “different” from modern humans. In this case, all that was found in the few samples that were analyzed was a small difference in an enzyme in modern human DNA, in contrast to Neanderthal, ape and monkey DNA. Why this might be significant, or how such a small difference could have “strongly contributed to modern humans evolving into a separate species” was never mentioned in any of the articles above. It appears that humans have a mutation that adversely affects genetic efficiency of an enzyme. This alone does not provide evidence for progressive evolution. If it is in fact a mutation, it documents rather more degeneration of the human genome. It could simply be another variation in humans that is found in some people groups but not in others. Much more evidence would be required to understand the significance of this finding, if any exists.

References

[1] TIME Magazine, “How Apes Became Human,” 23 July 2001.

[2] TIME Magazine, “How We Became Human,” 9 October 2006.

[3] See Chapter 6: “Are Humans and Champs 98% Similar?” in Jerry Bergman et al., Apes as Ancestors: Examining the Claims About Human Evolution, Bartlett Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 2020.

[4] TIME Magazine, “How Man Began: Fossil Bones from the Dawn of Humanity are Rewriting the Story of Evolution.” Volume 143, No. 11, 14 March 1994.

[5] “Scientists discover a new feature that distinguishes modern humans from Neanderthals,”EurkAlert! AAAS, Phys.org, 24 May 2021.

[6] “Scientists discover. . .” 2021.

[7] “Scientists discover. . .” 2021.

[8] Stepanova, Vita, et al, 2021. Reduced purine biosynthesis in humans after their divergence from Neandertals, eLife, 4 May 2021. See also https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.11.087338v1.full

[9] Stepanova, et al., 2021.

[10] Stepanova,  et al., 2021.

[11] Stepanova, et al., 2021. Emphasis added.

[12] Stepanova, et al., 2021. Emphasis added.

[13] Tomasello, Michael, Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2019..

[14]“New Feature That Contributed to Modern Humans Evolving Away From Neanderthals Is Discovered,” Technology Networks Genomics Research, 25 May 2021..

[15] “New Feature . . . ,” 2021


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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