Stone Age Sex: Neanderthal DNA in Our Blood

Research suggests that Neanderthal DNA enhanced modern human immune systems.

| March/April 2012

In 2010 researchers concluded that as result of sexual liaisons between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens some 80,000 years ago, many of us carry a trace of Neanderthal DNA in our genomes (among Europeans and Asians, somewhere between 1 and 4 percent). But, says Stanford magazine (November/December 2011), the evolutionary impact of the phenomenon was unclear until late last year, when Stanford immunologist Peter Parham found that “these genetic exchanges significantly strengthened modern human immune systems.” Specifically, the Neanderthal DNA fortifies a class of immune genes called human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which play a vital role in protecting people against viruses and infections.

It makes sense that an injection of outsider DNA would enhance human immunity, since diversity in the genetic code almost always produces a stronger constitution. In the case of Neanderthals, the HLA genes they conferred come in thousands of versions, granting an exceptional level of viral defense, which likely helped ancient humans survive mass migrations when they were exposed to regional pathogens.

A mix of immune genes is so essential to our species’ survival, explains Stanford, “that people are attracted to the scents of prospective sexual partners with disparate HLA types.” This might explain why Neanderthals and Homo sapiens hooked up in the first place.

6/15/2018 11:31:55 AM

As far as the “Stone Age Sex” angle, that makes Homo Sapiens seem more akin to the Preying Mantis, since by all evidence we were largely responsible for the demise of Neanderthal Man. Regarding the enhancement to the immune system gained from the addition of Neanderthal DNA to the Sapiens gene pool, perhaps I’m an exception, but I’m skeptical based on my experience. I began life with bad tonsils and numerous other chronic infections that would have quickly taken me out in a pre-penicillin era, and my autoimmune immune system is now very dysfunctional: I’ve dealt with lupus, fibromyalgia, and other rheumatoid issues causing degenerative damage to my joints for 20 years. A recent DNA profile done as part of a lupus research study showed I have a far higher than average amount of Neanderthal DNA. There may or may not be something to the Stanford article: at this point you’ll understand if I remain skeptical until further evidence is revealed.

David Kimball
3/19/2012 8:22:45 PM

Excuse me, but is this a case of poor journalism using sensationalis to attract additional readers? What does this article have to do with Stone Age Sex?