June 19, 2024 at 12:33 pm

The Oldest Known Human Virus Was Found In A 50,000-Year-Old Neanderthal

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

Viruses and bacteria have been around pretty much since the dawn of time – long before human beings began to evolve and thrive.

The first one ever found in a human, though, is around 50,000 years old. That it was found in a Neanderthal could lend credence to the theory that suffering from viral infections contributed to the extinction of their species.

Researchers from the Federal University of Sao Paulo have been trying to use the human viruses found in a set of Neanderthal bones to prove – or disprove – this theory since making the finding.

They have combed through the raw DNA sequencing data of two sets of remains recovered in Chagyrskaya cave in Russia.

Source: Shutterstock

They found remnants of the genomes of three types of DNA viruses – adenovirus, herpesvirus, and papillomavirus, and posit in their paper that Neanderthals could have been afflicted with the viruses the way we are today.

Adenovirus causes a wide range of illnesses like the common cold and gastroenteritis. Herpesviruses can trigger Epstein-Barr and mononucleosis, or even multiple sclerosis.

Papillomaviruses are best known for their association with cervical cancer.

Palaeogeneticists say there is at least one potential contamination to consider, and that’s the potential that someone at the dig site spread the germs themselves.

“Taken together, our data indicate that these viruses might represent viruses that really infected Neanderthals.”

Source: Shutterstock

To be clear, researchers aren’t saying viruses wiped out Neanderthals, only that they could have played a role in their downfall.

“To support their provocative and interesting hypothesis, it would be necessary to prove that at least the genomes of these viruses can be found in Neanderthal remains. That is what we did.”

It’s more of a jumping off point, then.

But a very compelling one.

If you thought that was interesting, you might like to read about why we should be worried about the leak in the bottom of the ocean.