[An] intimate portrait is revealed in an analysis of DNA from the hardened tooth plaque of five Neanderthals.
The study also reconstructs the first microbiomes from an extinct hominin species, and hints at intimacy — perhaps kisses — between humans and Neanderthals. “It really paints a different picture, almost of their personalities, of really who they were,” says Laura Weyrich, a palaeomicrobiologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia who co-led the study.
Christina Warinner, an archaeological geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, praises the team’s microbiome reconstructions. The fact that the mouths of Neanderthals seem to have been colonized by microbes that are rare in humans today means that “we’re really just scratching the surface of the human microbiome”, she says.
Genetic evidence of a microbe called Methanobrevibacter oralis offers another insight, because it is also found in the mouths of modern humans. Genome comparisons suggest that the microbe’s modern lineage split from the Neanderthal one hundreds of thousands of years after the hominins’ last common ancestor lived. This suggests the archaebacterium was transmitted between them.
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