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500,000-Year-Old Neanderthal Viruses Found in Modern Human DNA --(Did We Interbreed?)




Neanderthal viruses dating back 500,000 years has been discovered in modern human DNA when scientists studied links between 'endogenous retroviruses', which are hard-wired into DNA, and modern diseases such as AIDs and cancer. The researchers compared DNA from Neanderthals and another group of ancient humans called Denisovans with that obtained from cancer patients and found evidence of Neanderthal and Denisovan viruses in modern DNA, suggesting they shared a common ancestor more than 500,000 years ago. Neanderthals co-existed and possibly interbred with our ancestors in Europe for thousands of years, but belonged to a different sub-species, eventually becoming extinct around 30,000 years ago.

Approximately 8% of human DNA is made up of endogenous retroviruses, or ERVs, which are DNA sequences left by viruses which pass from generation to generation, forming part of the 90 per cent of the genome, sometimes called 'junk' DNA, that contains no instruction codes for making proteins.

'I wouldn't write it off as "junk" just because we don't know what it does yet,' said Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis, an MRC Fellow at Oxford University's Department of Zoology. 'Under certain circumstances, two "junk" viruses can combine to cause disease – we've seen this many times in animals already. ERVs have been shown to cause cancer when activated by bacteria in mice with weakened immune systems.'

Dr Gkikas and colleagues are now looking to further investigate these ancient viruses, belonging to the HML2 family of viruses, for possible links with cancer and HIV.

How HIV patients respond to HML2 is related to how fast a patient will progress to AIDS, so there is clearly a connection there,' said Dr Magiorkinis, an author on the latest study. 'HIV patients are also at much higher risk of developing cancer, for reasons that are poorly-understood. It is possible that some of the risk factors are genetic, and may be shared with HML2. They also become reactivated in cancer and HIV infection, so might prove useful as a therapy target in the future.'

The team is now investigating whether these ancient viruses affect a person's risk of developing diseases such as cancer. Combining evolutionary theory and population genetics with cutting-edge genetic sequencing technology, they will test if these viruses are still active or cause disease in modern humans.

'Using modern DNA sequencing of 300 patients, we should be able to see how widespread these viruses are in the modern population. We would expect viruses with no negative effects to have spread throughout most of the modern population, as there would be no evolutionary pressure against it. If we find that these viruses are less common than expected, this may indicate that the viruses have been inactivated by chance or that they increase mortality, for example through increased cancer risk,' said Dr Robert Belshaw, formerly of Oxford University and now a lecturer at Plymouth University, who led the research.

'Last year, this research wouldn't have been possible. There were some huge technological breakthroughs made this summer, and I expect we'll see even greater advances in 2014. Within the next 5 years, we should be able to say for sure whether these ancient viruses play a role in modern human diseases.'

This latest finding, reported in Current Biology, will enable scientists to further investigate possible links between ancient viruses and modern diseases including HIV and cancer, and was supported by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC).

This past May, researchers believe they pinpointed the skeletal remains of the first known human-Neanderthal hybrid, according to a study published in the peer reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE. The finding came from northern Italy, where some 40,000 years ago scientists believe Neandertals and humans lived near each other, but developed separate and distinctly different cultures. A segment of a jawbone found during an archaeological dig in the area reveals that the bone’s owner had facial features attributable to both modern humans and Neanderthals, the study explains.

A remarkable finding in 2011 could answer the question whether our human ancestors and the Neanderthals interbred some time after both species left Africa many thousands of years ago. Only 10 years after scientists triumphantly decoded the human genome, an international research team mapped the genes of the long-extinct Neanderthal people and report there's a pinch of Neanderthal in all of us.
The 2011 report capped more than five years of intensive work by a group of 56 international scientists led by German paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo and Richard E. Green of UC Santa Cruz.

The project's scientists used tiny specks of powdered bone retrieved from three Neanderthal females who died in a Croatian cave more than 40,000 years ago to complete the draft of the Neanderthal genome. They then compared the genes to those of modern humans living today in five different regions of the world: France, Papua New Guinea, China, and southern and northern Africa.

The research concluded that humans living today carry between 1 and 4 percent of Neanderthal genes that carry the code for proteins in our bodies. Those genes must have entered our lineage sometime during a 50,000-year period when the Neanderthals and humans left Africa through the Middle East and spread throughout Europe and Asia. The Neanderthals became extinct about 30,000 years ago.

The complete genomes of the Neanderthals and modern humans, whose lineages separated from some unknown common ancestor at least 400,000 years ago, are 99.5 percent identical. They are, in fact, our closest evolutionary relatives. By comparison, humans and chimpanzees share 98 percent of their genes.

The scientists analyzed 4 billion units of Neanderthal DNA, called nucleotides - at least 60 percent of the Neanderthal's entire genome. While incomplete, Pääbo told reporters during a teleconference this week that 60 percent "is a very good statistical sample of the entire genome."

Finding the Neanderthal genes in people living today provides "compelling" evidence that thousands of years ago some interbreeding occurred between the two species, Green said.

The Daily Galaxy via University of Oxford (England) and PLoS One

Image Credit: With thanks to


Not as tittilating I know but isn't it possible we were cannibals?

There are many ways for a virus to enter the body.

While it is possible for one create to absorb the DNA from another that is used as a food source, I have never seen any information that such a thing occurs with higher order organisms.

How do you NOT know what it is??? It's access to the Akashic Records. EVERYBODY'S past, thoughts, GOD'S creation of the universe. It's all there! We could all see it if we tried. Only with a pure mind of course.

It's "fuzzy" how in this very informative article (hats off by the way to the researchers)that Neanderthals are separated from "humans" in one sentence, then referred to "people" in another. Neanderthals were humans albeit a very separate "race" just as Africanos, East Asians, Hindus, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Mauri, Aboriganes Austrailian, Taiwanese Aborigines, Eskimos, and Caucasians are, OR they could NOT interbreed. Period. If you want to call Neanderthal a "sub species" go ahead but they can't be too "sub" for they bread right in with Cromagnon. It seems several people wrote this article, the references to Neanderthal and human are mixed. That isn't science. When are they going to get it straight that just because modern man invented gene study that the inventors are then something "special" apart from their very not too distant ancestors? This is blatant racism which is a combination of emotion and instinct, superiorty syndrome, and these attributes are not conducive to real science.

Say for instance I have a smidgeon of Africano in me but 96% of my lineage is caucasian. Would I call my Africano ancestor(s) anything but human? Of course not. Only an uneducated bumpkin would. Same-same w/Cromagnon and Neanderthal mixes.

In Portugal archeologists discovered a virtual cemetery full of crosses of Neanderthal and Cromagnon, children's skeletons and adults' alike. They were not unique love child skeletons, this was a group of about equal mix. Maybe the short squat robust Neanderthal ladies managed to seduce (Amazon Wild Women? LOL) some tall handsome Cromagnon guys and stuff happened just as the Med Sea shore countries are dotted with all sorts of race mixes, a delightfully diverse, complex gene pool. Obviously this group of Portuguese Neanderthal/Cromagnon could have also bread into the dominant Caucasian populace and enriched the Neanderthal gene count in the offspring, in time, if the group didn't entirely disappear as a whole before it had a chance to mix in with other more "pure" Cromagnons.

The other way to view our present Neanderthal genes is to assume both Neanderthal and Cromagnon originated from the same hominid, and this is curren theory (maybe correct, maybe not) albeit very huiman like, none the less a very "advanced" hominid coming after homo erectus but before Neantherthal and Cromagnon, that is, enough gene difference to cross the line between species and sub species.

Obviously more of this incredible research has to be done and hats off to the progress done already including huge amounts of gene study.

In a way I hesitate to say this but selecting the "junk" ancient virus DNA to exclude from a human sperm nucleus and ovum nucleus which could cause disease or propensity for disease is a logical way to improve the human race's life span. I hesitate to say this because human breeding would result, resulting in a super race that would obliterate eventually inferior races. On one hand this smacks of Nazi Germany, on the other it ensures a survival factor beyond our present survival factors for future generations, more free of disease and more able to contribute in the work place at older ages. Of course population control would HAVE to be enforced else an over populated Earth would become more so still, causing more harm than good. Please, this is only musings here, I'm not in charge of anything other than my alternate energy work shop and my dog, am retired and not all that far from kicking the bucket, LOL.

Your statement of you having 4% African dna would that part of you be considered human and your answer, of course not. Well as you are on a site that deals with biology, you should be aware that the African dna that you speak of is what actually determines you are a part of the human race and not the other way around. Black Africans are proven to be the only group to be pure 100% homosapien and thus the only contributor to modern man being classified as human.

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