Why weren’t Neanderthals autistic?

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Groundbreaking new studies in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have begun to ask the question why didn’t our ancestors develop autism.

One in 68 children now develop autism during childhood. We are closely related genetically to our extinct cousins the Neanderthals and the Denisovans and geneticist Liran Carmel and his team of researchers are probing to find out if autism and brain disorders such as Schizophrenia are unique to our generation.

Bernard Crespi at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, studies the evolution of human neurodevelopment. He says the current thinking does indeed suggest that these disorders may be uniquely human.

“Autism and schizophrenia are commonly viewed as disorders involving human-specific traits such as language and complex social cognition. As such, they are expected to be human-specific at least to a considerable degree.”

The research will study the Methylation (addition of a methyl group to part of the DNA to study the Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes and compare them to the genomes of modern humans, therefore being able to compare the three side by side.

We already know that the Neanderthals looked differently, but this study is to look specifically at why autism in particular seems prevalent in modern day humans.

A full article appears in this month’s New Scientist