London, September 27 (ANI): Inhabitants of Britain and mainland Europe did not get their pallid complexion from the Neanderthals but only lost the darker skins of their African ancestors perhaps just 6000 years earlier, long after Neanderthals had died out, a new study has claimed.
The findings of the new study add to evidence that European Homo sapiens and Neanderthals generally kept their relationships strictly platonic.
According to Sandra Beleza from the University of Porto in Portugal, there is a clear correlation between latitude and skin pigmentation - people who have spent an extended period of time at higher latitudes have adapted to those conditions by losing the skin pigmentation that is common at lower latitudes.
Lighter skin can generate more vitamin D from sunlight than darker skin, making the adaptation an important one for humans who wandered away from equatorial regions.
Those wanderings took modern humans to Europe almost 45,000 years ago, but it still remains unclear as to when exactly did the European skin adapt to local conditions.
Beleza and her colleagues studied three genes associated with lighter skin pigmentation.
Although the genes are found in all human populations, they are far more common in Europe than in Africa, and explain a significant portion of the skin-colour differences between European and west African populations.
By analysing the genomes of 50 people with European ancestry and 70 people with sub-Saharan African ancestry, Beleza's team could estimate when the three genes and pale skin first became prevalent in European populations.
The result suggested that the three genes associated with paler skin swept through the European population only 11,000 to 19,000 years ago.
"The selective sweeps for favoured European [versions of the three genes] started well after the first migrations of modern humans into Europe," New Scientist quoted Beleza as saying.
Katerina Harvatifrom the University of Tubingen in Germany said that the findings of the new study are synonymous with earlier studies which suggest that modern humans did not lose their dark skins immediately on reaching Europe.
"The new study is interesting because it suggests a very late differentiation of skin pigmentation among modern humans," Harvati said.
The study has been published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. (ANI)