Anda di halaman 1dari 10

How having sex with

NEANDERTHALS saved humanity:

DNA from our ape-like cousins
boosted our immune systems,
protecting early humans from
deadly diseases 70,000 years ago
 Modern humans interbred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa
 Neanderthals had lived in Eurasia for hundreds of thousands of years
 Exposure to viruses allowed them to develop some protection against them
 This form of immunity was then passed on to the next generation of
 The genes helped fight RNA viruses such as HIV, influenza A and hepatitis
PUBLISHED: 16:00 BST, 4 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:17 BST, 4 October 2018

 e-mail


View comments

Modern-day humans received the genetic tools to fight viral infections such as
HIV, influenza A and hepatitis C from Neanderthals.

Scientists believe Homo sapiens received the protection against the deadly
viruses when they interbred with Neanderthals around 70,000 years ago.
Neanderthals mysteriously disappeared around 40,000 years ago but had
already existed outside of their native Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.

When homo sapiens followed suit and also moved out of the continent they
interbred with Neanderthals, scientists say.

This passed on the genetic defences of Neanderthals to humans and helped

protect them against deadly viruses.

Scroll down for video

Scientists have found that interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans
gave us genetic tools to combat viral infections such as HIV. When the two species
interbred it passed down thousands of years of evolution from Neanderthals to
humans instantaneously

As a result of the trysts, many modern Europeans and Asians still harbour about
two per cent of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.

This percentage varies from person to person but some sections of ancient
neanderthal DNA have a tendency to pop up more often than others in modern
human populations.

Some experts have long predicted that these snippets of genetic material are
beneficial to human survival and that's why they persisted for millennia.
 Previous
 1
 Next

 Not so brutish after all: Neanderthals had a 'well

developed... Fossil teeth discovered in Italy reveal

Neanderthals... Neanderthals were no brutes - they

had hands capable of... Is this proof early humans

were using 'hospital wards'...




Research published in the journal Cell has found proof of a theory known as the
'poison-antidote' model.
This suggests that the swapping of genes between the two species during the
process of interbreeding bequeathed both infectious viruses and genetic tools to
combat the invaders to modern humans.

Professor Dmitri Petrov, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford's School of

Humanities and Sciences, said: 'Neanderthal genes likely gave us some
protection against viruses that our ancestors encountered when they left Africa.'

The study found the genetic defences that humans inherited from Neanderthals
were against RNA viruses.

These utilise a molecule called RNA - ribonucleic acid - a molecule that is similar
in shape and function to DNA.

This diagram shows how human evolution was altered after breeding with
Neanderthals. Humans instantly inherited the adapted and virus-resistant genes from
the Neanderthals who had developed it after living outside their native Africa for
hundreds of thousands of years


A virus particle, or virion, is made up of three parts: a set of genetic instructions,
either DNA or RNA; coat of protein that surrounds the DNA or RNA to protect it; a
lipid membrane, which surrounds the protein coat.
Unlike human cells or bacteria, viruses don't contain the chemical machinery,
called enzymes, needed to carry out the chemical reactions to divide and spread.

They carry only one or two enzymes that decode their genetic instructions, and
need a host cell, like bacteria, a plant or animal, in which to live and make more

When a virus infects a living cell, it hijacks and reprograms the cell to turn it into a
virus-producing factory.

Proteins on the virus interact with specific receptors on the target cell.

The virus then inserts its genetic code into the target cell, while the cell's own
DNA is degraded.

The target cell is then 'hijacked', it begins using the virus' genetic code as a
blueprint to produce more viruses.

The cell eventually bursts open to release the new, intact viruses that then infect
other cells and begin the process again.

Once free from the host cell, the new viruses can attack other cells.

Because one virus can reproduce thousands of new viruses, viral infections can
spread quickly throughout the body.

After compiling a list of more than 4,500 genes that are known to interact with
viruses in modern-day humans, the researchers cross-referenced this with a
database of Neanderthal DNA.

This process identified 152 fragments of genetic information which exist in both
modern humans and the extinct Neanderthals.

Professor Enard said: 'One of the things that population geneticists have
wondered about is why we have maintained these stretches of Neanderthal DNA
in our own genomes.

'This study suggests that one of the roles of those genes was to provide us with
some protection against pathogens as we moved into new environments.'

Today, these genes are still active and interact with various types of RNA viruses,
including influenza A, HIV and hepatitis C.

Professor Petrov said: 'Many Neanderthal sequences have been lost in modern
humans, but some stayed and appear to have quickly increased to high
frequencies at the time of contact, suggestive of their selective benefits at that

'Our research aims to understand why that was the case.

'We believe that resistance to specific RNA viruses provided by these

Neanderthal sequences was likely a big part of the reason for their selective

Scientists concluded that these genes helped our ancestors fend off ancient RNA
viruses that they encountered upon leaving Africa.

Assistant Professor David Enard, of the University of Arizona, said: '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 interbreeding with each other, they also passed along genetic adaptations to
cope with some of those pathogens.'

Video playing bottom right...

Click here to expand to full page


DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid - is widely known as the molecule found in the
nucleus of all our cells that contains genetic information.

It is shaped like a double-helix and made of small sections called nucleotides.

Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base.

The sugar component in this particular molecule is called deoxyribose and makes
up the D in DNA.

This is a cyclic carbon-based chemical with five carbon atoms arranged as a


At the second carbon atom there is an attached singular hydrogen atom in

This can also have an additional oxygen attached as well.

In this case, the oxygenated chemical then forms what is simply known as ribose
- the R in RNA.

The deoxy prefix literally means without oxygen.

Shape of RNA and DNA

RIbose can do almost everything deoxyribose can and also codes for genetic
information in some cells and organisms.

When the oxygen is present it drastically alters how the chemicals bonds and sits
alongside other molecules.

When oxygen is present - in RNA - it can take a variety of shapes.

When oxygen is not present in this specific location - in DNA - the molecule forms
as the iconic double helix.

Uses of RNA
DNA is often broken down into RNA and read by the cells in order to translate
and transcribe the genetic code in order to make proteins and other molecules
essential for life.

RNA uses three of the same base pairs as DNA: Cytosine, Guanine, Adenine.

The othe base pair, Thymine, is swapped out in RNA for Uracil.

RNA is also often found in simpler organisms, such as bacteria.

It is often also a virus, with Hepatitis, flu and HIV all forms of RNA.

Mitochondrial RNA
All animal cells use DNA, with one notable exception: the mitochondria.

Mitochondrian are the powerhouses of the cell and turn glucose into pyruvate and
then into Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via the Krebs cycle.

This process is all done in this one organelle in the cells and ATP is the universal
form of energy and used throughout every aerobic organism.
In the mitochondria there is a small strand of RNA which is unique in the animal

It is passed down from the mother exclusively (the father's lives in the sperm but
is dissolved during fertilisation) and allows humans to trace their maternal lineage
back throughout time.

Neanderthals had been living outside of Africa for hundreds of thousands of

years, giving their immune systems ample time to evolve defences against
infectious viruses in Europe and Asia.

But our newly emigrated ancestors would have been much more vulnerable.

Professor Enard, a former postdoctoral fellow in Prof Petrov's lab, explained: 'It
made much more sense for modern humans to just borrow the already adapted
genetic defences from Neanderthals rather than waiting for their own adaptive
mutations to develop, which would have taken much more time.

'Modern humans and Neanderthals are so closely related that it really wasn't
much of a genetic barrier for these viruses to jump

'But that closeness also meant that Neanderthals could pass on protections
against those viruses to us.'

Interestingly, 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.

Professor Enard said it made sense since interbreeding between Neanderthals

and modern humans is thought to have occurred multiple times and in multiple
locations throughout prehistory, and different viruses were likely involved in each


The timeline of human evolution can be traced back millions
of years. Experts estimate that the family tree goes as such:

55 million years ago - First primitive primates evolve

15 million years ago - Hominidae (great apes) evolve from the
ancestors of the gibbon

8 million years ago - First gorillas evolve. Later, chimp and

human lineages diverge

 A recreation of a Neanderthal man is pictured

5.5 million years ago - Ardipithecus, early 'proto-human' shares

traits with chimps and gorillas

4 million years ago - Ape like early humans, the

Australopithecines appeared. They had brains no larger than a
chimpanzee's but other more human like features

3.9-2.9 million years ago - Australoipithecus afarensis lived in


2.7 million years ago - Paranthropus, lived in woods and had

massive jaws for chewing
2.3 million years ago - Homo habalis first thought to have
appeared in Africa

1.85 million years ago - First 'modern' hand emerges

1.8 million years ago - Homo ergaster begins to appear in fossil


1.6 million years ago - Hand axes become the first major
technological innovation

800,000 years ago - Early humans control fire and create hearths.
Brain size increases rapidly

400,000 years ago - Neanderthals first begin to appear and

spread across Europe and Asia

300,000 to 200,000 years ago - Homo sapiens - modern humans -

appear in Africa

50,000 to 40,000 year