Web

Study: Sex with Neanderthals likely strengthened human immune system

neanderthal-humans-immune-system-sex

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

Microsoft’s latest breakthrough could make DNA-based data centers possible

Could tomorrow's data centers possibly store information in the form of synthetic DNA? Researchers from Microsoft have successfully encoded the word "hello" into DNA and then back again.
Mobile

Scientists wreck a smartphone in a blender, but not just for fun

It’s oddly mesmerizing to watch a smartphone get torn apart inside a blender. Researchers recently did just that in a bid to find out which materials make up a handset, and also to encourage people to think more about recycling.
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Web

How much!? British Airways glitch results in $4.2M quote for family vacation

Website errors sometimes cause flight prices to display at way below the correct price. But British Airways recently experienced the opposite issue when it tried to charge a family more than $4 million for a vacation in Mexico.
Computing

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.
Mobile

You can now listen to Google Podcasts on your desktop without the app

The Google Podcasts app is no longer entirely necessary to listen to the podcasts it offers. With a simple tweak of the sharing URL, you can listen to a Google Podcasts podcast on your desktop or laptop without the app.
Computing

Delete tracking cookies from your system by following these quick steps

Cookies are useful when it comes to saving your login credentials and other data, but they can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites. Here's how to clear cookies in the major browsers.
Social Media

A Facebook, Instagram bug exposed millions of passwords to its employees

Facebook, Facebook Lite, and Instagram passwords weren't properly encrypted and could be viewed by employees, the company said Thursday. The network estimates millions of users were affected.
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
News

Drunk shoppers spend $48B per year while intoxicated, mostly on Amazon

Drunk shoppers spend more than $400 per year, according to the results of a survey carried out by The Hustle. The drunk shopping industry is apparently worth $48 billion, and Amazon is turning out to be the biggest beneficiary.
Computing

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.
Computing

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. The best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.