Researchers at the Universities of Arizona and Stanford published a study in the journal Cell, according to which the breeding of early humans with Neanderthals resulted in creating offspring resistant to dangerous diseases that were similar to flu or hepatitis.
Even though Neanderthals went extinct almost 40,000 years ago, modern Europeans and Asians have 2% of Neanderthal DNA.
After inter-breeding, early humans got 152 genes from Neanderthals, allowing them to fight against today’s HIV, influenza and hepatitis C. The lead author of the study, David Enard, who is an Assistant Professor in ecology and evolutionary biology (University of Arizona), explains their findings:
“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. By inter-breeding with each other, they also passed along genetic adaptations to cope with some of those pathogens.”
The literature on modern humans shows that they started moving into Eurasia almost 70.000 years ago, coming from Africa. Arriving in Eurasia, they met the Neanderthals who were already adapted to those geographical areas. Moving into Eurasia, the humans from Africa had to evolve to adapt to new viruses and pathogens that were never found in Africa.
152 Fragments of Genes in Modern Humans and Neanderthals
According to the study, Neanderthals passed to modern humans genetic defenses which were against RNA viruses. The team of researchers examined 4.500 genes from modern humans that interact with the RNA viruses. Enard then confronted the list against the database that contained sequenced Neanderthal DNA. There, they identified 152 fragments of the modern humans genes were also found in Neanderthals.
The study’s findings also show that scientists can comb through the genome of a species and find ancient diseases that afflicted them, even if the viruses that caused the disease disappeared a long time ago. Enard concluded that the technique works best on RNA viruses, as the RNA-based genomes are not as tough as the DNA genomes.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.