Saturday October 20, 2018

Neanderthal Genes Helped Early Human Beings to Fight Flu, Hepatitis

The team examined a list of more than 4,500 genes in modern humans that are known to interact in some way with viruses

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Neanderthal
Visitors take pictures of models representing Flores, human and Neanderthal women in the "Musee des Confluences," a new science and anthropology museum in Lyon, central France, Dec. 18, 2014. Neanderthals had a long run in Europe, but disappeared about 40,000 years ago after modern humans showed up. (VOA)
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Inter-breeding with Neanderthal gave early human beings the ability to fend off dangerous diseases similar to flu and hepatitis, says a research.

The findings, led by researchers from the Universities of Arizona and Stanford, showed that while Neanderthal became extinct about 40,000 years ago, many modern Europeans and Asians today carry about 2 per cent of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.

Early humans inherited 152 genes from Neanderthal that helped them fight off modern day HIV, influenza A and hepatitis C whenever they encountered them.

“It’s not a stretch to imagine that when modern humans met up with Neanderthals, they infected each other with pathogens that came from their respective environments,” said lead author David Enard, Assistant Professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.

Neanderthal model
Neanderthal model. Reconstruction of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) based on the La Chapelle-aux-Saints fossils. Neanderthals inhabited Europe and western Asia between 230,000 and 29,000 years ago. They did not use complex tools but had mastery of fire and built shelters. It is thought that they had language and a complex social structure, living in small family groups and hunting for food. It is not known why Neanderthals became extinct, but one theory is that they were outcompeted by modern humans (Homo sapiens). Reconstruction by Elisabeth Daynes of the Daynes Studio, Paris, France.

“By inter-breeding with each other, they also passed along genetic adaptations to cope with some of those pathogens,” he added.

According to studies, modern humans began moving out of Africa and into Eurasia about 70,000 years ago.

When they arrived, they met up with Neanderthals who, along with their own ancestors, had been adapting to that geographic area for hundreds of thousands of years.

The Eurasian environment shaped Neanderthals’ evolution, including the development of adaptations to viruses and other pathogens that were present there but not in Africa.

In the study, published in the journal Cell, the team showed that the genetic defences that Neanderthals passed to humans were against RNA viruses, which encode their genes with RNA, a molecule that is chemically similar to DNA.

Neanderthal
Neanderthal man. Flickr

The team examined a list of more than 4,500 genes in modern humans that are known to interact in some way with viruses.

Enard then checked his list against a database of sequenced Neanderthal DNA and identified 152 fragments of those genes from modern humans that were also present in Neanderthals.

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In addition, the findings also demonstrate that it is possible to comb through a species’ genome and find evidence of ancient diseases that once afflicted it, even when the viruses responsible for those diseases are long gone.

This technique would work especially well for RNA viruses, whose RNA-based genomes are more frail than their DNA counterparts, Enard noted. (IANS)

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US Airport Gets 2 Health Scares From Inbound Flights

The CDC said in a statement that the cases were a reminder that flu season is coming, and urged all U.S. citizens six months or older to get a flu shot by the end of October.

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Two major health scares at U.S. airports involving inbound flights are related to pilgrims returning from the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which ended in late August, U.S. health officials said on Friday.

On Wednesday, U.S. health officials sent an emergency response team with mobile diagnostic equipment to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after they were told that more than 100 passengers aboard an Emirates airlines flight from Dubai were experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Martin Cetron, director for the division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters in a telephone interview that health officials evaluated nearly 549 passengers at the airport, and sent a total of 11 people to a local hospital for more testing.

Ten people were tested for a battery of respiratory viruses and bacteria in hopes of ruling out serious pathogens that could present a public health threat.

Hajj, U.S.
Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Wikimedia Commons

Two of them tested positive for an especially virulent type of influenza A virus, and one of the two, who was gravely ill with pneumonia, was co-infected with another respiratory virus, Cetron said. A third person tested positive for a cold virus.

All three had taken part in the Hajj, which this year drew some 2 million people to Mecca, Cetron said.

Seven crew members, who boarded the flight in Dubai and were not at the pilgrimage, tested negative for a number of respiratory infections of public health concern, Cetron said. The next day, two flights arriving in Philadelphia from Europe were screened by medical teams after 12 passengers reported flu-like symptoms. One of them had visited Mecca for the Hajj.

Cetron said health officials in New York had been prepared to quarantine a large group of sick passengers in an area at the airport. From a total of 11 passengers taken to hospital for evaluation, 10 were tested for respiratory symptoms; one showed signs of food poisoning.

“It was a much smaller incident. That’s not uncommon,” Cetron said. “Often the incoming information from multiple sources can be exaggerated beyond what we really find.”

Hajj, U.S.
Muslim pilgrims walk in the Al-Safa direction (Safa and Marwah) where Muslims walk back and forth seven times during Tawaf al-Ifada as part of the annual haj pilgrimage rite at the grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, VOA

All 10 patients with respiratory symptoms tested negative for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS, a highly infectious and deadly respiratory infection that was first identified in the Middle East in 2012.

The CDC was not alerted in advance about the two flights that landed in Philadelphia from Paris and Munich, but several travelers had complained of illness, triggering a “medical review” of 250 passengers from those flights, a spokesman said.

Twelve passengers were found to have sore throats and coughs, and one also tested positive for the flu, a CDC spokesman confirmed.

The responses were part of a well-rehearsed network of public health officials trained to identify and contain pathogens as U.S. airports and ports of entry, Cetron said.

“Our most critical issue was to rule several respiratory illnesses of urgent public health significance,” Cetron said.

US Airport
U.S. health officials sent an emergency response team with mobile diagnostic equipment to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York Flickr

Cetron said the CDC monitors databases to track outbreaks of infectious disease that could post a treat in the United States. Although unlikely, MERS was definitely a concern that the team needed to rule out, he said.

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“That was a low-probability, high consequence event that we wanted to rule out,” he said.

The CDC said in a statement that the cases were a reminder that flu season is coming, and urged all U.S. citizens six months or older to get a flu shot by the end of October. (VOA)