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Researchers Tested Neanderthal Bones To See If Infectious Diseases Contributed To Their Extinction

Kovalenko I - stock.adobe.com - illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

Around 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals were infected with three types of viruses that still affect humans today.

Traces of the viruses were detected in ancient Neanderthal bones. The findings are the first step toward figuring out whether infectious diseases contributed to the extinction of Neanderthals.

After examining DNA sequences from two male Neanderthal skeletons, scientists found fragments of adenovirus, herpesvirus, and papillomavirus (HPV).

The Neanderthal remains were originally discovered in the Chagyrskaya Cave, which is located in the Altai mountains of Russia. The findings may be the oldest human viruses ever.

“This DNA contains…a mixture of various DNAs, from the Neanderthal individual themselves, plus bacteria, fungus, and viruses that might have infected this individual,” Marcelo Briones, a co-author of the study and a genome researcher from the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil, said.

“We show that the degree of such changes in the viral genome reads recovered are consistent with the age of the Neanderthal bones, thus showing that they are not present-day contaminants,” he continued.

Neanderthals are the closest extinct relative to modern humans. They lived from about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago before disappearing entirely.

Between one and four percent of the DNA in modern humans of non-African descent is from Neanderthals. In African people, Neanderthal DNA comprises about 0.5 percent of their genetic makeup.

It is unclear how Neanderthals died out, but scientists have made several speculations over the years.

Kovalenko I – stock.adobe.com – illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

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