Human evolution News speciation

Neanderthal virus turns up in modern humans with cancer

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An ancient virus first spotted in the Neanderthal genome has turned up in humans with cancer:

They examined the genomes of 67 people with cancer, and found they contained six of the sequences supposedly unique to the ancient humans. Belshaw suspects that all 14 might still be around, although finding the rest will take more time. The viruses insert themselves into DNA repeats – patterns that occur in multiple locations throughout the genome, only one of which will carry the sequence in question, so tracking them down is time consuming.

It’s too early to jump to conclusions about cancer, but here is an interesting admission:

The new study is important, says Magiorkinis, because it emphasises that modern humans can differ from one another significantly in the non-coding parts of their genomes. “The results show that we can find individuals today who share loci with Denisovans or Neanderthals, but not with other humans alive today,” he says.

This shows how vital it is to know whether an individual possesses or lacks a certain sequence rather than just assuming it is present, says Jonathan Stoye at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London. “Such properly analysed data will be necessary to establish whether there is any real link between endogenous retroviruses and disease,” he says. New Scientist

This observation parallels the Dmanisi find re human skulls of supposedly separate species:

The level of variation between the skull remains at Dmanisi could well be matched among modern humans waiting for the bus in a multicultural city.

See also:

A new study on early human dentition which suggested that no known hominin is a common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.

Mystery human species “unearthed” from genome map of early humans? Despite such evident fertility, this is supposed to be a separate species?

Take home point: Humans today can differ significantly in the non-coding areas of their genomes. Maybe we know too little to know so much?

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