HOUSTON (CW39) — When you think of Neanderthals we often refer to the past. Now, scientists are learning that our ancient human cousins may have more of an impact in our lives and our health, today.

Scientists are discovering Neanderthals and others called Denisovans are no strangers to our ancestors. They spent time with them and even had children with them. They also did some intermingling of DNA. So, while many may think they have gone extinct, they still remain, in our genes.

According to the Associated Press, using the new and rapidly improving ability to piece together fragments of ancient DNA, scientists are finding that traits inherited from our ancient cousins are still with us today, impacting our fertility, our immune systems, even how our bodies handled the COVID-19 virus.

“We’re now carrying the genetic legacies and learning about what that means for our bodies and our health,” said Mary Prendergast, a Rice University archeologist.

In the past few months alone, researchers have linked Neanderthal DNA to a serious hand diseasethe shape of people’s noses and various other human traits. They even inserted a gene carried by Neanderthals and Denisovans into mice to investigate its effects on biology, and found it gave them larger heads, plus an extra rib.

Much of the human journey remains a mystery. But Dr. Hugo Zeberg of the Karolinska Insitute in Sweden said new technologies, research and collaborations are helping scientists begin to answer the basic but cosmic questions: “Who are we? Where did we come from?”

And the answers point to a profound reality: We have far more in common with our extinct cousins than we ever thought.