Department of Genetics

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Shaping Human Existence

The researchers accomplished this by finding unique HERV-K DNA insertions in the complete genome sequences of Neandertals and Denisovans obtained recently by other researchers using DNA derived from ancient bone fragments. The Einstein scientists (Drs. Lorenzo Agoni, Aaron Golden, Chandan Guha and Jack Lenz) published their findings as a letter in the June 4 issue of Current Biology. They showed that Neandertals and Denisovans were infected by HERV-K both before and after the time that the Neandertal-and-Denisovan lineage separated from the lineage leading to modern humans and, subsequently, from each other. The researchers note that their results raise the possibility that such retroviral infections might have contributed to shaping the genomes of the different hominin species—the Neandertals and Denisovans as well as Homo sapiens. Dr. Agoni, who is an M.D., is a Ph.D. student in the department of pathology working in the laboratory of Dr. Guha and also with Dr. Lenz. Dr. Guha is professor and vice chair of radiation oncology and professor of pathology; Dr. Lenz is professor of genetics and of microbiology & immunology; and Dr. Golden is associate professor of genetics."

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