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Neanderthal genomics suggests a pleistocene time frame for the first epidemiologic transition.



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Houldcroft, Charlotte J 
Underdown, Simon J 


High quality Altai Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes are revealing which regions of archaic hominin DNA have persisted in the modern human genome. A number of these regions are associated with response to infection and immunity, with a suggestion that derived Neanderthal alleles found in modern Europeans and East Asians may be associated with autoimmunity. As such Neanderthal genomes are an independent line of evidence of which infectious diseases Neanderthals were genetically adapted to. Sympathetically, human genome adaptive introgression is an independent line of evidence of which infectious diseases were important for AMH coming in to Eurasia and interacting with Neanderthals. The Neanderthals and Denisovans present interesting cases of hominin hunter-gatherers adapted to a Eurasian rather than African infectious disease package. Independent sources of DNA-based evidence allow a re-evaluation of the first epidemiologic transition and how infectious disease affected Pleistocene hominins. By combining skeletal, archaeological and genetic evidence from modern humans and extinct Eurasian hominins, we question whether the first epidemiologic transition in Eurasia featured a new package of infectious diseases or a change in the impact of existing pathogens. Coupled with pathogen genomics, this approach supports the view that many infectious diseases are pre-Neolithic, and the list continues to expand. The transfer of pathogens between hominin populations, including the expansion of pathogens from Africa, may also have played a role in the extinction of the Neanderthals and offers an important mechanism to understand hominin-hominin interactions well back beyond the current limits for aDNA extraction from fossils alone. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:379-388, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.



genetics, infectious disease, paleopathology, Animals, Anthropology, Physical, Communicable Diseases, Evolution, Molecular, Fossils, Genome, Genomics, History, Ancient, Humans, Neanderthals

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American Journal of Physical Anthropology

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The authors would like to thank Professor Robert Foley for reading a draft of this paper, and the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies discussion group for helpful comments. CJH would like to acknowledge the support of a college research associateship from King’s College, Cambridge.