Herpes, a common STD has an origin as scratchy as the disease itself. While earlier studies indicated that the Herpes virus was passed down by direct copulation with the chimps, a new study has come forward to debunk the theory. A research by a team of scientists based at England’s Cambridge and Oxford universities, published in the journal Virus Evolution, has found that proto-humans reacquired the herpes simplex-2 virus (HSV2), responsible for genital herpes, somewhere between three and 1.4 million years ago. The researchers have pegged this to old mate Plio-Pleistocene hominin Paranthropus boisei also known as the Nutcracker Man.
It is now theorised that he probably picked up HSV2 in Tanzania "through scavenging ancestral chimp meat where savannah met forest." The latest research, led by Cambridge uni’s Simon Underdown, used a probability-based network analysis of African rainforest fossil and environmental data to track the infection pathway of HSV2 from chimps to humans. The results suggested that the key link in the chain was an unknown primate ancestor, which likely contracted the HSV2 virus as a result of eating bloodied chimp meat. Parathropus boisei, has been considered the likely culprit.
But if the extinct primate enjoyed chowing down on raw chimp, evolutionary evidence shows that it had its karma. Paranthropus boisei and Homo erectus tended to live close by—usually around large water sources—so they would have been primed to pass on HSV2.
Homo erectus was quite possibly faster and smarter than its lumbering big-jawed ugly cousin and may well have been capable of killing and consuming it – completing the infective pathway for genital herpes.
However, during its long period of exile, HSV2 appears to have mutated in such a way that it was able to adapt to proto-human conditions when eventually reintroduced.
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“Herpes infect everything from humans to coral, with each species having its own specific set of viruses,” says team member Charlotte Houldcroft, a virologist from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.
(With inputs from sources)