50,000 Year Old Neanderthal Bones Have Remains of Human Viruses
June 9, 2024 7:09 PM   Subscribe

50,000 Year Old Neanderthal Bones Have Remains of Human Viruses, Scientists Find. (Smithsonian Magazine.) The preliminary analysis is a first step in testing the theory that infectious diseases played a role in Neanderthals’ extinction.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (6 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Present-day individuals are exposed to about ten viral species during their lifetimes, the authors write.

This actually blows my mind. I had for some reason presumed that we were narrowly dodging thousands of different viral species capable of infecting us every day. I found a 2012 paper estimating that at that time there were 219 known viruses that commonly spread from human-to-human contact. I honestly would have guessed a number closer to ten thousand if asked. I suppose I've been presuming it's much easier to catch a novel viral disease than it actually is.

Fascinating article, thank you!
posted by DSime at 7:22 PM on June 9 [10 favorites]

Those virus numbers are shocking to me. Like DSime, they feel orders of magnitude lower than I imagined.

I can't actually do it, obviously, but I feel like I could name more than 10 types of viruses I have been exposed to just this year, including a Norovirus that kicked my ass and the asses of my nearest and dearest after a bad outbreak at a family memorial service just last week.

I guess a lot of what we get year over year are not considered different viruses but just variants of a single virus?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:33 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]

Humans are definitely exposed to more than ten viral species in their lifetimes! That's clearly just wrong. Looks like this fact is supposedly citing this paper which used a genomic scanning method to identify viral antibodies and did find an average of ten antibodies per person, but that's highly dependent on the sensitivity of the method (clearly theirs was not that sensitive), where you look (not all antibodies are circulating in blood in large numbers), when you look and of course if the person still has antibodies (or even developed them in the first place). And of course you can have antibodies without having been exposed to a virus itself with modern vaccines.

There are about 270 virus species that infect humans that we know about and more that we haven't discovered yet.
posted by ssg at 9:46 PM on June 9 [7 favorites]

Any antibody survey ignores the effectiveness of the innate immune system in disposing of pathogens before they wake up the antibody producing cells. I spent 10 years in an innate immunity lab discovering novel anti-microbial / host-defense peptides in several different species. One project was looking at a cohort of women who were infected with Hepatitis C virus HCV during prophylactic Rhesus incompatibility treatment. Audit-trail records showed many women known to be treated in the 1970s with HCV contaminated vials of anti-Rh but in whom no trace of anti-HCV antibodies nor PCR evidence of circulating HCV could be found. Eventually, after I'd left the lab, they secured ethical approval to ask those women [now on their pension] back into the lab and discover if they had anything in common genetically that allowed a particularly robust first responders thump to HCV.

Important because about a million [mostly poor POC from The South] are infected each year with HCV and knowledge about effective innate immune strategies in now elderly white Irish women might be the beginning of an effective therapy.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:12 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]

How do we know if a virus was “native” or “foreign” in this context. I get that Neanderthals could have caught diseases from H. sapiens, but couldn’t the opposite be true, too?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:47 AM on June 10

I guess they did their own research.
posted by condour75 at 8:04 AM on June 10

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