Neanderthal DNA helps people fight off diseases

Neanderthal interbreeding was shaped by viral infections. Credit Enard & Petrov

They found that the genes of Neanderthals, CRO-magnons gave protection from the viruses they encountered in the transition from Africa.

This is confirmed by a new study published in the journal Cell on the basis of the analysis of the Neanderthal genome, a species which became extinct about 40 000 years ago, but whose traces remain in the genome of the current human population. As the researchers report today (October 4) in Cell, genes for virus-recognizing proteins are relatively common among the tiny percentage of modern humans' DNA that originated in Neanderthals. Then the researchers cross-referenced the list with the database of the DNA of Neanderthal and identified 152 total fragment. According to a new study, the Neanderthals left the humans with the precious gift of viral defense on those occasions.

"Our research shows that a substantial number of frequently occurring Neanderthal DNA snippets were adaptive for a very cool reason", said researcher Dmitri Petrov, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford.

Neanderthals lived outside of Africa for hundreds of thousands of years, which allowed their immune system to adapt against infectious diseases present in Europe and Asia.

"Modern humans and Neanderthals are so closely related that it really wasn't much of a genetic barrier for these viruses to jump", said Enard, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Arizona in the US.

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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.

Inter-breeding with Neanderthals gave early human beings the ability to fend off risky diseases similar to flu and hepatitis, says a research. "But that closeness also meant that Neanderthals could pass on protections against those viruses to us". Although scientists can not say for sure if the virus exchange took place, they are exploring the viruses that were involved. Most of the 152 genes create proteins that interact with a specific type of viruses, RNA viruses, which have RNA encased in a protein shell.

Recently, British researchers have concluded that Neanderthals had a highly developed medicine, which helped them to survive severe injuries.

"It is anything but a stretch to envision that when present-day people got together with Neanderthals, they contaminated each other with pathogens that originated from their particular surroundings", David Enard, a colleague educator in nature and developmental science at the University of Arizona, said in a news discharge.

This technique would work especially well for RNA viruses, whose RNA-based genomes are more frail than their DNA counterparts, Enard said. "You can find hints of dinosaurs in different ways. 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".

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