New strand of campylobacter colonized human ancestors more than 10,000 years ago

In the latest macabre news out of Africa, researchers have found a disease in Neanderthals that was newly identified by genetic analysis, Eurasia. The disease is related to a group of bacteria and parasites known as campylobacter, and was found to have ravaged the European genomes of both people from Africa and people from the Middle East as well as Neanderthals. In some cases, the symptoms of the infection were mild, while other samples experienced severe symptoms. Still others weren’t infected at all, but just likely carried the microscopic organism. Regardless, the team, led by Scott Nearing of Washington University in St. Louis, found that the genes that make up campylobacter often entered into the Neanderthal genome, and the disease lived in both populations. This means that the doctors had found a previously unknown source of bacterial resistance that traveled from animals to people.

Co-author Elaine Y. Manougian, of the University of Southern California, said that the mutation to campylobacter carried between the two populations may have been passed from Neanderthals to humans at some point. She suggested that the rate of infection may be lower than in the peoples of the Middle East, because Neanderthals didn’t have to pass the disease onto their offspring. In fact, she said it’s likely the earliest version of campylobacter may have co-existed with the other pathogens humans likely found in the environment. “It’s possible we were carrying around this organism quite a long time before we found it in this population of Neanderthals,” she said.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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