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]

Movies & TV

He created comics, movies, and superheroes. But Stan Lee lived for joy

Stan Lee was a creator, a celebrity, an icon, and beneath it all, a real-life good guy with all the same human qualities that made his superheroes so relatable. And his greatest joy was sharing his creations with the world.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Home Theater

Looking for a podcast? Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project is just the ticket

Pandora has created a brand new service for podcast listeners. Powered by calls the Podcast Genome Project, the new podcast offering uses an advanced combination of algorithms and human curation to deliver the perfect podcasts for you.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Apple to boost its Amazon presence with listings for iPhones, iPads, and more

Apple is about to start offering more of its kit on Amazon. The tech giant currently only has very limited listings on the shopping site, but the deal will see the arrival of the latest iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and more.

Zoom in on famous works through the Art Institute of Chicago’s new website

Art lovers, listen up. The Art Institute of Chicago has given its website a serious makeover with new features that let you get up close and personal with more than 50,000 artworks by famous (and not so famous) artists.

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.

Will Chrome remain our favorite web browser with the arrival of newest version?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.

Over a million veterans now eligible for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program

Comcast's low-cost Internet Essentials program, which provides internet access for just $10 per month, has expanded to include U.S. veterans. One million veterans now qualify for the service.

Google’s Squoosh will get an image web-ready with in-browser compression

Google's latest web app development is an image editing and compression tool, Squoosh. In just a few clicks, it can take a huge image and make it much lighter and web-friendly, all in your browser.

Want to save a webpage as a PDF? Just follow these steps

Need to quickly save and share a webpage? The best way is to learn how to save a webpage as a PDF file, as they're fully featured and can handle images and text with ease. Here's how.
Social Media

‘Superwoman’ YouTuber Lilly Singh taking a break for her mental health

Claiming to be "mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted," popular YouTuber Lilly Singh has told her millions of fans she's taking a break from making videos in order to recuperate.
Smart Home

Amazon has a huge team dedicated to enhancing Alexa and Echo

An Amazon executive on Tuesday, November 13 revealed the huge size of the team that's tasked with developing the Echo, the company's smart speaker, and Alexa, the digital assistant that powers it.