Two-thirds of the world’s population under the age of 50 carries the herpes virus, which can cause cold sores. Now scientists have finally been able to trace the virus back in time.
Despite the fact that the herpes virus that causes cold sores is now common in humans – different types of it can also be found in animals, such as bats and corals – the ancient substance of the virus was not known. Herpes originated millions of years ago, but the 1925 strain of the current cold sore virus was the oldest of all. When did our variant originate? Why has it spread to a large part of the world?
Researchers at the University of Cambridge now know more. They found a number of ancient strains of cold sore virus, one of which was 1,500 years old. By the way, it was not easy. They studied the DNA of 3000 archaeological excavations and found only 4 cases of herpes. They have now analyzed the genomes of those four variants.
Combined with other studies, it is now clear that the current strain of the virus must have originated about 5,000 years ago. During the Bronze Age, migrations to Europe saw an exponential rise in population growth. Whatever should have accelerated the rapid spread, researchers believe: kissing. Something that was not popular in the West at all, but was traveling at the time with immigrants and was imitated as a fun habit.
The researchers’ next goal: to find herpes strains from the time of Neanderthals to better understand the evolution of the virus.
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