Neanderthal Microbes

Title:  Neanderthal microbes reveal surprises about what they ate and whom they kissed


Source: Sarah Kaplan at Washington Post

Date: 14MAR2017


University of Adelaide’s paleomicrobiologist Lauren Weyrich led a new study, which examines the microorganisms found in the teeth of four Neanderthals. They used genetic sequencing to identify a bacterium that still dwells in human mouths today. This discovery suggests that Neanderthals and humans share similar microbes. In addition to the bacterium, they also discovered traces of a tree that produces an ingredient used for aspirin, and they also found traces of Penicillium. This gave the scientists an idea that Neanderthals may have been self medicating, though without a larger sample size, this analysis cannot be confirmed. The study also found a single-celled organism known to be found between humans’ gums and teeth suggesting that the organism was introduced to the Neanderthal by kissing an ancient human. This supports the hypothesis that around 120,000 years ago, Neanderthals and ancient humans had relations.


I found this article to be interesting as we had just finished the bioinformatics analysis of our bacteria’s genome sequencing.


One of the most interesting things I found about this article was that it states that the microbial biome discovered was the oldest ever to be sequenced. The article did a good job of keeping the reader’s attention, though they did tend to make broad leaps in their analysis with such a small sample size of the Neanderthal population. They do, however, at least mention this failing in the article.


This article made me curious as to what other microbial similarities there are linking Neanderthals to humans.

1 Comment for “Neanderthal Microbes”



As far as practical applications of bioinformatics goes, this is one that I don’t believe comes immediately to mind. I think that the fact that these microbes could be sequenced after such a long time is quite intriguing.

The article itself is long enough to give a lot of detail, but in easy-to-understand terms.

Insofar as the conclusions go, I found it interesting that they assume the only way a person could transfer spit is through kissing, and in term used that stretch to state that the kissing implied consensual intercourse.

Personally I think both of those statements are somewhat far-fetched to give as the only possible explanation. Sharing food, especially gnawed-on bones or pre-chewed berry mash would promote the exchange of saliva and microbes. Also, implying that kissing is always a consensual and/or a sexual action seems a grossly narrow view of the act.

In all, though, I found this to be an interesting article and a intriguing application of microbiology.