BSc, PCTHE, PhD (Cantab), CSciTeach, FSA, FRSB, FRGS, FRAI, FCPS, SFHEA
School of Social Sciences
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Phone number: +44 (0)1865 483718
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Background. Simoni et al (2016) reported variation in the frequency of Neanderthal alleles found in modern humans and argued that they may have provided an evolutionary advantage. One such allele is SNP rs3917862, associated with hypercoagulability. rs3917862 can be deleterious but can also help prevent blood loss. We investigated two possible selective pressure hypotheses for rs3917862 surviving to higher frequencies: deaths from interpersonal violent trauma and childbirth. Results. Mortality data from modern hunter-gatherers models the living conditions and causes of death of humans and Neanderthals at the point of admixture. National census data indicates a positive correlation between presence of rs3917862 and decreased maternal mortality ratios. When maternal mortality ratio is modelled using GDP, births attended by skilled assistants and the presence of rs3917862, women are 0.1% more likely to die in childbirth in populations lacking rs3917862. Deaths due to violence show no correlation with rs3917862. Conclusion. These findings challenge the idea that Neanderthal admixture has negatively impacted the overall health of modern humans. Maternal survival may have acted as a selective pressure for the persistence of hypercoagulability alleles in modern Europeans. Understanding the role of hypercoagulability in childbirth, and the role of rs3917862, could help to reduce maternal mortality ratios.
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 human 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.
Human-wildlife conflict, specifically crop raiding by wildlife, is an increasing concern. Primates are a particular problem across much of Africa and Asia, especially for rural, subsistence farmers living and farming at the forest edge. Most methods designed for sampling and extrapolating from primate crop damage in a subsistence farming context require extensive data collection and involve considerable expenditure of time to complete data analysis. Using a standard epidemiological model, we predict the relative risk of primate crop raiding based on crops grown, their availability within individual farms and patterns of primate selectivity. The model produces an index of relative risk of crop raiding by primates within a geographical region. It rapidly ranks farms according to their vulnerability to crop raiding, with limited need for in-depth data collection. It will therefore allow a more effective deployment of protection methods and more pro-active targeting of resources. This method of modelling primate crop damage can be taught to local communities rapidly and easily. Although not designed to replace existing methods, it can run effectively in conjunction with them.