Neanderthals Made Humans Resistant Against Flu, Hepatitis

Leslie Hanson
October 9, 2018

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.

It's not anymore a secret that the ancient people interbreed, and even co-lived with Neanderthals as the scientists have already established that modern-day human DNA contains traces of the Neanderthals genome. 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.

"It's not a stretch to imagine that when modern humans met up with Neanderthals, they infected each other with pathogens that came from their respective environments", David Enard, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. As a result, many modern Europeans and Asians have about 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, the researchers explained. 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.

The Neanderthal genes they identified are present only in modern Europeans, suggesting that different viruses influenced genetic swapping between Neanderthals and the ancient ancestors of today's Asians.

In the study, the researchers gathered a large dataset of several thousand proteins that interact with viruses in modern humans.

For a very long time anthropologists, evolutionists have claimed that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens existed in parallel, without mixing, and if they had sexual contact, it could not produce fertile offspring capable of reproduction. A team of researchers from Stanford University have proved this idea.

The study was published online October 4 in the journal Cell. The analysis identified 152 fragments of those from modern humans that were also found in Neanderthals.

"Neanderthal genes likely gave us some protection against viruses that our ancestors encountered when they left Africa", Petrov said.

To test their hypothesis, the scientists have compiled a list of more than 4500 genes in modern humans that are associated with virus protection. Those sequences are publicly available to investigators in the field. In this scenario, Neanderthals bequeathed to modern humans not only infectious viruses but also the genetic tools to combat the invaders. It turns out that we are descendants of Neanderthals.

In addition to revealing new details about human evolution, Enard notes, another benefit of this type of research is that it will help investigators uncover new clues about ancient disease outbreaks. "We trust that protection from particular RNA infections given by these Neanderthal groupings was likely a major piece of the goal behind their specific advantages". Enard concluded that the technique works best on RNA viruses, as the RNA-based genomes are not as tough as the DNA genomes.

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