Modern humans inherited viral defenses from Neanderthals

It made much more sense for modern humans to just borrow the already adapted genetic defences from Neanderthals

Researchers think people initially collaborated with Neanderthals in Eurasia, in the wake of relocating out of Africa 70,000 years back. Once they met up thousands of years later, though, the Neanderthal variety was acquired by humans and quickly spread. 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. As a result of these ancient trysts, many modern Europeans and Asians today harbor about 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. "We believe that resistance to specific RNA viruses provided by these Neanderthal sequences was likely a big part of the reason for their selective benefits".

"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. Then the researchers cross-referenced the list with the database of the DNA of Neanderthal and identified 152 total fragment. Are viruses responsible for many human diseases, the most famous representative of them is the human immunodeficiency virus.

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.

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. "Some of the Neanderthals had adaptive mutations that gave them advantages against these pathogens, and they were able to pass some of these mutations on to modern humans", explains Enard, who completed the work while he was a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.

In this scenario, Neanderthals bequeathed to modern humans not only infectious viruses but also the genetic tools to combat the invaders, they said.

Since viruses can not replicate on their own, they depend on the proteins found in cells.

In 2016, while working at Stanford University with scientist Dmitri Petrov, Enard found about 33% of all protein adjustments in the human genome were activated by viral contaminations. Other studies have shown that the ancestors of Europeans and East Asians, probably, differently have interacted with Neanderthals. "Our research aims to understand why that was the case".

"One of the things that population geneticists have wondered about is why we have maintained these stretches of Neanderthal DNA in our own genomes", Enard adds.

According to a new study, two groups Gann exchanged diseases and genes that protect against these diseases.

The study concluded that interbreeding between ancient humans and Neanderthals provided us the immunity against some ancient viral epidemics.

"RNA is very fragile and gets degraded fast, so it's hard to learn much about ancient diseases that were caused by RNA-based viruses", he says.

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