Home Features Best of 2011 Best of 2011 // 80: Neanderthal DNA makes you healthier

Best of 2011 // 80: Neanderthal DNA makes you healthier

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Best of 2011 // 80: Neanderthal DNA makes you healthier

When our ancient ancestors mated with Neanderthals and Denisovans they added bits and pieces into the human gene pool.  Researchers are now suspecting that that DNA inherited from our now-extinct cousins have helped bolstered our immune systems./READ MORE// Did Modern Man Steal Technology from Neanderthals?

A team based out of Stanford focused on Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) class 1 genes, which play an important role in fighting off viruses and bacteria we encounter.  Since diseases can be specific to certain regions or groups in the world, there are thousands of versions of these genes, known as alleles.

To understand where these alleles come from, the team from Stanford compared bone marrow registries, which contain HLA genes from millions of people from around the world.  Comparing those samples to the reconstructed genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans, discovering that several HLA variants in our extinct cousins are in fact, still around in modern man.

One of the most prominent survive genes was HLA-A, a gene that helps resist viruses such as Epstein-Barr, is currently present in 50 percent of modern Europeans, more than 70 percent of modern Asians, and almost 95 percent of those in Papua New Guinea.

Our ancient ancestors’ relations with our genetic cousins may have also made them less susceptible to local diseases.

“Breeding with our evolutionary cousins may have facilitated the spread of modern humans by preventing them from getting sick”
– Laurent abi-rached, standford immunologist

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