Ancient Neanderthal Viruses Found in Modern Human DNA


By comparing the genetic data of modern day cancer patients to that found in fossils of our genetic ancestors, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, researchers learned that the same viruses that infect us today also infected Neanderthals more than half a million years ago.

The find suggests that that some viruses that infect us today have their origins in our ancestors, and the link establishes the possibility for research into whether modern diseases like HIV and cancer have roots in the past.

About 8 percent of human DNA is made of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which are DNA sequences from viruses that pass from generation to generation. These ERVs are found in part of the DNA sequence with no known function; this seemingly useless DNA is often referred to as junk DNA.

"I wouldn't write it off as 'junk' just because we don't know what it does yet," said study co-author Gkikas Magiorkinis, of Oxford University's Department of Zoology. "Under certain circumstances, two 'junk' viruses can combine to cause disease — we've seen this many times in animals already. ERVs have been shown to cause cancer when activated by bacteria in mice with weakened immune systems."

Written By: James A. Foley
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  1. Junk is discarded just prior to RNA synthesis. This would act like a way of partially scaping off the ERV barnacles, would it not?

  2. I don’t think that Neaderthals are our genetic ancestors. We share a common line away back, but we’re not descended from them. DNA studies have shown that.

  3. Ancient Viruses Found in Neanderthal DNA also Found in Modern Human DNA. I don’t think the virus is a Neanderthal.

  4. In reply to #2 by Gearoidmuar:

    I don’t think that Neaderthals are our genetic ancestors. We share a common line away back, but we’re not descended from them. DNA studies have shown that.

    You are incorrect. There’s clear evidence of interbreeding. Thus they are the ancestors of some, but not all, humans. However, they are not the main line of descent we all originate from, which I guess is what you were thinking of when you said “our genetic ancestors”.

    Genetic research has confirmed that some admixture took place.[106] The genomes of all non-Africans include portions that are of Neanderthal origin,[107][108] due to interbreeding between Neanderthals and the ancestors of Eurasians in Northern Africa or the Middle East prior to their spread. Rather than absorption of the Neanderthal population, this gene flow appears to have been of limited duration and limited extent. An estimated 1 to 4 percent of the DNA in Europeans and Asians (French, Chinese and Papua probands) is non-modern, and shared with ancient Neanderthal DNA rather than with Sub-Saharan Africans (Yoruba and San probands).[109] Nonetheless, more recent genetic studies seem to suggest that modern humans may have mated with “at least two groups” of ancient humans: Neanderthals and Denisovans.[110] Some researchers suggest admixture of 3.4%-7.9% in Eurasian populations, rejecting the hypothesis of ancestral population structure.[111]

  5. In reply to #3 by aquilacane:

    No, it’s a virus that a Neanderthal could catch, just as bird flu is a bird virus, myxomatosis is a rabbit virus, etc.

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