NEANDERTHALS, the early humans thought to have become extinct after the arrival of modern people, could be taking a form of posthumous revenge with the discovery that their genes might be linked to life-threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
Scientists have found that Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted for tens of thousands of years in Europe and Asia and often interbred.
It means the genomes of modern Europeans contain about 2 per cent Neanderthal DNA.
Now, a series of studies has suggested that this “legacy” DNA could be playing an important role in human health, with some Neanderthal genes helping build immunity but others increasing the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
“Interbreeding with Neanderthals would have had costs and benefits for the modern humans who encountered them as they moved out of Africa and into Eurasia,” said professor Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London.
“For example, our HLA complex (a group of genes involved in disease immunity) may have come from Neanderthals.
“That acquisition might have been beneficial because Neanderthals would have had immunity to the diseases prevalent then, so getting those genes might have passed that resistance to modern humans.
“But recent papers have also linked other Neanderthal genes to an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, so a more complex picture is emerging.”
Another part of that picture was revealed last November when researchers from Oxford and Plymouth universities announced that genes thought to be risk factors in human cancer had also been discovered in the Neanderthal genome, suggesting a common origin.
Last month, Nature published a paper from Harvard Medical School suggesting that a gene variant associated with diabetes in Latin Americans came from Neanderthals.
Source: The Sunday Times reported in The Australian
Comment: Many years ago the association between the Neanderthal and modern humans with strong religious tendencies was explored by us, as well as some other explorers in the parapsychological fields.
Although this possible association did not seem directly related to health issues, the conclusion was that inbreeding between humans and Neanderthals was much more likely than a mass extinction.
This article seems to back this insight up and, whilst it gives no clear conclusions regarding the implications for health, it does raise some interesting and intriguing lines of enquiry.