Pain and Gain

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Some people have a low pain threshold thanks to gene variants inherited from our Neanderthal ancestors.

Now, a new study delved into the role of these variants in human pain sensitivity and their prevalence, Live Science reported.

Scientists analyzed three versions of the SCN9A gene, which is associated with pain perception. They explained that individuals with any of these Neanderthal gene variants are more sensitive to pain caused by sharp objects, but less so to pain caused by heat or pressure.

For their paper, the research team explored the distribution of these gene variants among various populations in Latin America. They found that people with Native American ancestry were more likely to carry these Neanderthal genetic variants.

“The high frequency of the Neanderthal variants in people with Native American ancestry could potentially be explained by a scenario where the Neanderthals carrying these variants happened to breed with the modern humans who eventually migrated into the Americas,” said lead author Pierre Faux.

Faux and his colleagues suggested that carrying these variants could have provided some survival benefit for the extinct hominids and the modern humans who first settled in the Americas.

However, they noted that the variants may not have evolved for this specific purpose, adding the heightened sensitivity to sharp objects might have been an inadvertent side effect of other adaptations.

The authors believe the findings underscore the complexity of evolutionary processes, saying there’s much more to discover about the reasons for Neanderthals’ pain sensitivity and whether it had any evolutionary advantage.

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