Study: Sex with Neanderthals likely strengthened human immune system


Scientists have discovered that crossbreeding with Neanderthals, and another ancient hominid, called Denisovans, may have helped shape the human immune system that continues to help us fight off deadly viruses and bacteria, reports the BBC.

Last year, researchers discovered that Neanderthals and our human ancestors had mated, laying to rest the long-held belief that the two species never crossed paths sexually. Despite evidence of inter-species trysts, scientists thought that the Neanderthal DNA present in modern humans was basically junk, holding no real value.

Now, a new study from Stanford University researchers, which was published today in the journal Science, shows that key parts of human DNA likely came from humans breeding with both Neanderthals, and another cousin of humans, the now-extinct Denisovans.

Our entire base of knowledge about Denisovans comes from a single tooth and finger bone, which were found at a site in Russia.

At least one form of the DNA in question, known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA), commonly appears in humans from Europe and Asia, but rarely shows up in people from Africa, since their ancestors apparently didn’t come in contact with the Neanderthals and Denisovans. The study’s researchers believe that 1 to 4 percent of Eurasian DNA comes from crossbreeding with our long-gone brethren.

HLA genes are known to play a vital role in boosting the human immune system’s ability to ward off illness cause by viruses and malicious bacteria. According to the study’s author, Laurent bi-Rached of Stanford University’s school of medicine, HLA plays “a very profound functional impact in the immune systems of modern humans.”

“The HLA genes that the Neanderthals and Denisovans had, had been adapted to life in Europe and Asia for several hundred thousand years, whereas the recent migrants from Africa wouldn’t have had these genes,” said Peter Parham of Standford, who led the study. “So getting these genes by mating would have given an advantage to populations that acquired them.”

Some researchers disagree with the conclusion that interbreeding with other species of humans played such a significant role in forming our immune systems.

“I’m cautious about the conclusions because the HLA system is so variable in living people,” said John Hawks, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It is difficult to align ancient genes in this part of the genome. Also, we don’t know what the value of these genes really was, although we can hypothesise that they are related to the disease environment in some way.”

[Image via Kachalkina Veronika/Shutterstock]

Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.

Drink what nature provides with the best water purifiers

Looking for reliable water purification? Staying hydrated is important, especially when you are hiking or camping far from civilization. Check out our picks of the best water purifiers for your camp, backpack, or pocket.
Emerging Tech

New research could allow fast diagnosis of viruses like Ebola and Zika

A new development in molecular biology is a step towards instant diagnosis of viruses like Ebola or Zika. Researchers have found a way to use a mobile device to identify plant viruses and potentially animal and human viruses too.

Apple Maps boosts Flyover locations, indoor mall maps, and more

In a boost for Apple Maps, the tech company has recently added more than 50 new locations for Flyover, the feature that offers spectacular 3D photo views of particular cities and famous landmarks around the world.

Google has found a clever way to make your search history more useful

Google has found a clever way to make more use of your search history by showing links to pages you've visited before. Ideal for repeat searches for the same page, the links show up on cards at the top of mobile search results.
Smart Home

Booth babes, banned sex toys, and other mishaps at CES 2019

From female sex toys bans, to fake Tesla/robot collision stories, there was some weird stuff going on at CES 2019 this year. Here are some of the biggest mishaps and flubs at the world's biggest tech show.

Shutdown makes dozens of .gov websites insecure due to expired TLS certificates

The US government shutdown is causing trouble in internet security. As the shutdown enters day 22, dozens of government websites have been rendered insecure or inaccessible due to expired transport layer security (TLS) certificates.

Our favorite Chrome themes add some much-needed pizzazz to your boring browser

Sometimes you just want Chrome to show a little personality and ditch the grayscale for something a little more lively. Lucky for you, we've sorted through the Chrome Web Store to find best Chrome themes available.
Social Media

A quick swipe will soon let you keep bingeing YouTube on mobile devices

The YouTube mobile app has a new, faster way to browse: Swiping. Once the update rolls out, users can swipe to go to the next (or previous) video in the recommended list, even while viewing in full screen.

Cathay Pacific messes up first-class ticket prices — again

A couple of weeks ago, an error on Cathay Pacific's website resulted in first-class seats selling for a tenth of the price. On Sunday, January 13, the airline made the error again. The good news is that it'll honor the bookings.

Reluctant to give your email address away? Here's how to make a disposable one

Want to sign up for a service without the risk of flooding your inbox with copious amounts of spam and unwanted email? You might want to consider using disposable email addresses via one of these handy services.
Social Media

YouTube to crack down on dangerous stunts like the ‘Bird Box’ challenge

YouTube already bans content showing dangerous activities, but new rules published by the site go into greater detail regarding potentially harmful challenges and pranks, including certain blindfold- or laundry detergent-based stunts.

Pinning websites to your taskbar is as easy as following these quick steps

Would you like to know how to pin a website to the taskbar in Windows 10 in order to use browser links like apps? Whichever browser you're using, it's easier than you might think. Here's how to get it done.