Do you have genital herpes? The herp? Craters? The gift that keeps on giving? Well, half a billion people worldwide live with HSV-2, so statistically it is likely to be a fair few of you.
Yeah, it’s a drag. But there’s an upside now! You’ve finally got someone to blame for your plight: this cheeky bloke.
This fellow is a member of the species Paranthropus boisei – known more colloquially as “Nutcracker Man”, a nickname earned by the species because of their big teeth. Paranthropus boisei is also – according to an article this weekend in academic journal Virus Evolution – the reason humanity has been blighted by the scourge of genital herpes.
And yes, this prehistoric horndog is specifically responsible for genital herpes. HSV-1 – oral herpes – was carried by the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, but the human side of the genetic divergence was able to avoid the genital variant for million of years. That is, until the Nutcracker Man hit the scene, acting as a bridge between the two lineages.
How did it make the jump? Well, there are a few theories. Interspecies boning is certainly one of them, but by no means the most likely – it’s also possible that it passed between species thanks to shared drinking water. Our nearer ancestors may have even eaten P. boisei, causing the proliferation of the virus.
Charlotte Houldcroft, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, advocated the eating theory in an interview with CNN:
We can ‘blame’ our ancestors for eating other hominins/great apes, this has been the source of other primate-to-human infections such as HIV. Eating other species closely related to oneself has risks, because pathogens adapted to species genetically similar to us will find it easier to jump the species barrier.
Look, no matter how it happened, you’ve now got a handy culprit to blame for your STD: a mysterious ape who lived millions of years ago. Try that one on your GP.
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