Published: Tue, October 09, 2018
Medical | By

Neanderthal genes helped early humans combat flu, hepatitis

Neanderthal genes helped early humans combat flu, hepatitis

Nearly all humans that were born outside Africa have a tiny amount of DNA from some our most distant ancestors: the Neanderthals.

The paper's authors, Dmitri Petrov of Stanford University and his former postdoc, David Enard of the University of Arizona, note that the H. sapiens who left Africa for Europe tens of thousands of years ago would likely have encountered pathogens that Neanderthals had always been exposed to. As a result, many modern Europeans and Asians have about 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, the researchers explained.

It is so far known that Neanderthals and humans interbred at least twice in a period of 100,000 years, but some snippets of Neanderthal DNA remain in some members of the modern human population than in others.

Stanford scientists have now found compelling evidence for the latter.

"Our research shows that a substantial number of frequently occurring Neanderthal DNA snippets were adaptive for a very cool reason", said Dr Dmitri Petrov, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences.

"A portion of the Neanderthals had versatile changes that gave them points of interest against these pathogens, and they could pass a portion of these transformations on to current people", said Enard. This could have been deadly for the human species since Neanderthals encountered many infectious viruses while living for hundreds of thousands of years outside Africa. Our newly emigrated ancestors, by comparison, would have been much more vulnerable.


"We call it the poison-antidote model", says Enard.

Sex between Neanderthals and early modern humans at the time when these two human species coexisted, led to the exchange of pathogens and the development of General protection to combat viruses.

In their new study, published online October 4 in the journal Cell, the scientists show that the genetic defenses that Neanderthals passed to us were against RNA viruses, which encode their genes with RNA, a molecule that's chemically similar to DNA. Our method is similarly indirect: "Because we know which genes interact with which viruses, we can infer the types of viruses responsible for ancient disease outbreaks". Then the researchers cross-referenced the list with the database of the DNA of Neanderthal and identified 152 total fragment.

Boston, Oct. 7 (PTI): Modern humans inherited genetic defences against viral diseases like hepatitis and influenza from Neanderthals when the two species interbred 50,000 years ago, a study has found.

Recently, British researchers have concluded that Neanderthals had a highly developed medicine, which helped them to survive severe injuries. They came up with 152 sequences for virus-interacting proteins that had come from Neanderthals. That meant they were already used to the terrain and climate of other continents, which allowed them to develop defenses against viruses present in Europe and Asia.

This technique would work especially well for RNA viruses, whose RNA-based genomes are more frail than their DNA counterparts, Enard said.

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