Mailbag: Neandertal pigmentation

Good morning The BBC TV Prehistoric Autopsy programme was fascinating. I couldn't help noticing that Neanderthal's range was roughly the same as that of early white-skinned Homo sapiens. No mention was made of the possibility that we inherited white-skin genes from breeding with Neanderthals, they after all had had a longer time to evolve this trait than us. Is there any evidence for or against such a hypothesis?

We have good representation in the Neandertal genomes of the DNA sites that affect light skin in Europeans. So far it appears that the Neandertals did not carry any of the alleles that are associated with lighter skin in Europe today.

They did have some changes to the genes that affect pigmentation that are not present in any living people. We speculate that these changes may have lightened skin or hair in the Neandertals, but we will not know this until we have experimental evidence about them. If this is correct, then the Neandertals will represent another case of convergence toward light pigmentation in the high latitude geographic range.