Where Did The Common Cold Come From?

The fact that children can have up to eight colds per year, and adults up to four colds per year, may have made us used to colds, but that doesn't make them any less irritating (per Medscape). While most colds are pretty mild, nobody enjoys having them. How can having a sore throat, congestion, body aches, and a low-grade fever ever not be an unpleasant experience? The only solace is that within a week, you should be feeling as good as new (per Mayo Clinic).

But do you know what is not new? Colds. In fact, new research suggests that colds may actually predate humanity itself. Well, modern humans, at least.

A recent study posted in the preprint database bioRxiv investigated a pair of 31,000-year-old baby teeth, and discovered DNA remnants from various viruses. The scientists then used that DNA to try to reconstruct the viruses' evolutionary history. According to this analysis, human adenovirus C might have emerged more than 700,000 years ago (per Live Science).

Adenoviruses are responsible for up to 7 to 10% of common colds (per Seminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine). In fact, most people suffer from at least one adenovirus infection by the age of ten, according to Nationwide Children's Hospital.

The relevance of these findings is still up for debate

While analyzing the DNA, the team of scientists noticed that the genomes were fragmented, so to piece them together, they compared each bit of DNA to those of modern-day viruses. It was by doing this that they identified the genomes as human adenoviruses (via Live Science). 

The scientists then developed a rough estimate as to when this strain of adenovirus split from other adenoviruses. Study author Sofie Nielsen told Live Science, "These dates are very uncertain, because we have so few samples, but it seems like they were split at least 700,000 years ago."

This precedes the emergence of modern humans by about 300,000 years. Evolutionary biologist Sébastien Calvignac-Spencer, who was uninvolved in the study, told Live Science that he believes the findings are plausible but still preliminary at this point.

Regardless, common colds are not new. Earlier research from 2008 published in the Journal of General Virology suggests that another virus that causes the common cold may have originated in birds and jumped to humans roughly 200 years ago. Alternate research has pinpointed the source of another common cold virus to camels (via German Center for Infection Research).