LONDON — What do Angelina Jolie, Megan Fox, and Elvis Presley all have in common? Besides being world famous celebrities, fans are particularly drawn to them, of course, for their stunning good looks. In particular, their luscious lips stand out to many, and one study says they have primitive humans to thank for the unique features.
People of Native American ancestry tend to have eye-catching smackers inherited from the Denisovans, suggests the study. They were a mysterious species that interbred with humans around 50,000 years ago.
Dozens of genes that shape a person’s face have been identified by a British led team of international scientists. One, named TBX15, is specifically responsible for the lips, and lives on in Pacific islanders and those descended from indigenous Americans.
“To our knowledge this is the first time a version of a gene inherited from ancient humans is associated with a facial feature in modern humans,” says study co-first author Dr. Pierre Faux, of Aix-Marseille University in France, in a statement. “In this case, it was only possible because we moved beyond Eurocentric research. Modern day Europeans do not carry any DNA from the Denisovans, but Native Americans do.”
The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, are based on an analysis of data from more than 6,000 volunteers across Latin America.
Other celebrities with such heritage include Johnny Depp, Jessica Biel, Cameron Diaz, Tiger Woods, Cameron Diaz, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman Anthony Kiedis, and the late Elvis Presley. The “King of Rock,” of course, has been hailed as “the most handsome man of all time.”
Denisovans had more than just luscious lips
The 32 gene “regions,” or areas of DNA, also influence the nose, jaw, and brow shape. They were either entirely new discoveries, or confirmation of “suspects” for which there was only limited prior evidence.
Little is known about the Denisovans, named after caves in Siberia where their remains have been found. They were widespread in Eurasia and co-existed with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. All three groups interbred tens of thousands of years ago. It has been likened to the fantasy world of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings.
There was also a dwarf human species on the Indonesian island of Flores, nicknamed The Hobbit. So at least four distinct types of humans were in existence when anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens, first left their African homeland.
It is believed others are yet to be unearthed.
Denisovans also lived in central and southeast Asia. They even reached Tibet. It is believed our ability to live at high altitudes is credited to them. They resembled Neanderthals in many key traits, such as robust jaws, low craniums, low foreheads, wide pelvises, wide fingertips, and large rib cages.
“The face shape genes we found may have been the product of evolution as ancient humans evolved to adapt to their environments,” explains co-corresponding author Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari, a geneticist at University College London. “Possibly, the version of the gene determining lip shape that was present in the Denisovans could have helped in body fat distribution to make them better suited to the cold climates of central Asia, and was passed on to modern humans when the two groups met and interbred.”
The results shed fresh light on the evolution of facial appearance in humans and other species.
‘One of only a few studies looking for genes affecting the face’
One of the newly discovered genes, named VPS13B, is believed to be responsible for the pointy noses of stars like Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Owen Wilson. The researchers also found it affects nose structure in mice, indicating a broadly-shared genetic basis among distantly related mammals.
“It is one of only a few studies looking for genes affecting the face in a non-European population, and the first one to focus on the profile only,” says co-first author Betty Bonfante, also from Aix-Marseille.
The study compared genetic information from the participants with characteristics of their face shape. These were based on 59 measurements — distances, angles and ratios between set points — from photographic profiles.
Experts have only been able to analyze complex genetic data from thousands of people at once over the last two decades. The mapping of the human genome enabled the use of genome-wide association studies to find links between traits and genes.
“Research like this can provide basic biomedical insights and help us understand how humans evolved,” notes co-corresponding author Andres Ruiz-Linares, a professor at UCL.
The findings could also help understand the developmental processes that determine features. It could lead to better treatments for genetic disorders cause facial abnormalities.
The results also contribute to the understanding of the evolution of facial appearance in human and other species.
Report by SWNS writer Mark Waghorn