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Did Humans Inherit Disease Immunity from Neanderthals

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It seems that Neanderthals passed on more than just their tool-making know how. A new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry has revealed the discovery of a receptor that allows the human immune system to recognise harmful invaders and elicit an immune response. What’s more, it appears this beneficial receptor was passed on from Neanderthals to humans.

The research group from Bonn University in Germany discovered that the blueprint for this receptor was the genome of Neanderthals. The presence of this receptor in Europeans but its near absence Africa suggests that it was the Neanderthals who passed this on to Homo sapiens.

“When early man, the ancestor of today’s humans, left Africa and migrated a few hundred thousand years ago to Europe, he did not yet have this receptor,” said Professor Norbert Koch from the Institute for Genetics, Department of Immunobiology at the University of Bonn.

The beneficial receptor would have evolved as an efficient defence system. Neanderthals probably lived many hundreds of thousands of years in Europe during which time they developed the receptor that provided them with immunity against many pathogens. “This means that different to our ancestors from Africa, the Neanderthals which were resident in Europe, carried this receptor on their immune cells. That was a distinct evolutionary advantage,” said Professor Koch, who suggests that modern humans owe this advantageous receptor to the Neanderthals.

By April Holloway

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