New research suggests that modern humans may have inherited some of our immune system genes
by interbreeding with closely-related non-homo sapiens. That is to say, our ancestors got it on with Neanderthals
and we've reaped the benefits.
The research focused on human leucocyte antigen (HLA)
genes that help the body identify and destroy viruses, as well as other foreign bodies. Through their work, the researchers believe they've found a link between certain HLA genes in humans and those found in prehistoric Neanderthals and another group known as Denisovans
. According to their study, the distribution of the genes obtained through interbreeding is not consistent across all humans: People of European descent got over 50% of one class of HLA variant genes from interbreeding, those of Asian descent have 80%, and people from Papua New Guinean have about 95%. In another example, HLA variants common in West Asia are rare in African people.
Stanford University's Peter Parham
, who led the study, believes that this discrepency paints a picture of early human migration.