Neanderthal genes may increase risk of severe Covid-19

Hyperaxion Jul 10, 2020

Analyzes indicate that patients with Neanderthal DNA variants are 70% more likely to develop severe Covid-19.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany found that a cluster of genes located on the third chromosome is linked to respiratory failure in patients with Covid-19. According to the first version of the article, published in the preprint repository bioRxiv, these genes would have been inherited by modern humans (Homo sapiens) from Neanderthals.

Neanderthal genes may increase risk of severe Covid-19
(Credit: John Gurche).

Homo neanderthalensis was a prehistoric hominid that lived in Eurasia between 200,000 and 35,000 years ago. Modern humans interbreed with Neanderthals, we know that because Neanderthal DNA is found in humans outside Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, scientists have found a correlation between genetic variants inherited from Neanderthals and severe Covid-19.

“A little over a week ago, a vast amount of data about the genetic profile of hospitalized patients from different parts of the world was released,” Hugo Zeberg, one of the researchers, told The Jerusalem Post. “We noticed that a certain DNA variant whose presence increases the likelihood of severe symptoms very closely matched with a segment from the Neanderthal genome.”

The scientists analyzed 3,199 genetic profiles of hospitalized patients and found that those who had variants of Neanderthal DNA were 70% more likely to develop a severe form of Covid-19. According to the scientists, the genes were observed with a frequency of 30% in South Asia, 8% in Europe, 4% in East Asia, and almost nonexistent in Africa. The highest frequency occurs in Bangladesh, where 63% of the population carries at least one copy of the Neanderthal variant.

“At this stage, this is simply observation. Many people are studying this variant, its meaning and why it is connected to COVID-19. More results will come from work and collaborations of scientists in many fields,” said Zeberg. “For now, I think it is important to highlight that this Neanderthal-inherited DNA sequence has had very important consequences in the coronavirus crisis.”


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