Coronavirus and Cavemen: DNA from Neanderthals can make Covid more severe

Rodiano Bonacci
Novembre 16, 2020

This genetic variation is present in modern-day humans because our ancestors had sex with Neanderthals about 60,000 years ago, researchers say.

When they compared the genetic profiles of about 3,200 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and almost 900,000 people from the general population, they found that a cluster of genes on chromosome 3 inherited from Neanderthals who lived more than 50,000 years ago is linked with 60 per cent higher odds of needing hospitalization.

"It is now not known what feature in the Neanderthal-derived region confers risk for severe Covid-19 and if the effects of any such feature is specific to SARS-CoV-2, to other coronaviruses or to other pathogens", the researchers wrote.

They are nearly non-existent in Africa and East Asia.

They also cited studies from the United Kingdom showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have roughly double the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with the general population. The study provides no explanation as to why this genetic variant confers a higher risk. "Today, the people who inherited this gene variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if they are infected by the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2".

Professor Zeberg, said: 'Obviously, factors such as your age and other diseases you may have also affect how severely you are affected by the virus.

Paabo and Zeberg found similar variations in the DNA from a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skeleton found in Croatia and a few of them in skeletons found in Siberia, as well.

"It is striking that the genetic heritage from the Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic", Paabo said in a statement.

They cited studies from the United Kingdom showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have about two times higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than the general population.

Modern humans and Neanderthals interbred throughout various points in history, resulting in an exchange of genetic material that can still be seen by scientists today.

The genetic variant is especially common among people in South Asia where about half of the population carry it.

The authors speculated that this could be the reason why people of Bangladeshi descent, now living in Europe, are twice as likely to die from the virus as the general population.

In East Asia and Africa the gene variant is virtually absent.

Denisovan remnants are also widespread but more sporadic, comprising less than one percent of the DNA among Asians and Native Americans, and about five percent of aboriginal Australians and the people of Papua New Guinea.

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