In Europe, one in six people is a carrier of the risk variant, and almost half in South Asia, while in Africa and East Asia it is almost non-existent. The highest frequency occurs in Bangladesh
October 1, 2020 Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
A family of Neanderthals in an artistic recreation (SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / DAYNES, ELISABETH)
Genes inherited by some people from Neanderthal ancestors could increase the likelihood of severe forms of COVID-19 , says a study published in the journal Nature .
The study, signed by scientists from the Max Planck Institute ( Germany) and the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm), recalls that this summer a large international investigation linked a group of genes on chromosome 3 with an increased risk of hospitalization and respiratory failure when infected with the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
To determine the origin of this group of genes, the team analyzed the ancient genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans – ancient hominins that contributed genetic variants to early modern humans.
The study revealed that genetic variants of that gene region are derived from a large group of genes (known as a haplotype ) that have been inherited from Neanderthals.
The version of the gene pool associated with an increased risk of severe covid-19 is “very similar” to the corresponding DNA sequences of a Neanderthal of about 50,000 years of age from Croatia and, in fact, comes from these , says the Max Planck in a statement.
“It turns out that this genetic variant was inherited by modern humans from Neanderthals when they interbred about 60,000 years ago,” explained Hugo Zeberg of the Karolinska Institute.
“Today, people who inherited this genetic variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if they are infected with the new coronavirus Sars-CoV-2,” added the expert.
The study also reveals considerable differences in the frequency of this genetic risk variant in different parts of the world , although it offers no explanation as to why it confers a higher risk.
In Europe , one in six people is a carrier of the risk variant, and almost half in South Asia, while in Africa and East Asia it is almost non-existent.
The highest frequency occurs in Bangladesh , where it is estimated that 63% of the population carries at least one specimen of the Neanderthal risk haplotype.
The highest frequency occurs in Bangladesh, where it is estimated that 63% of the population carries at least one specimen of the Neanderthal risk haplotype. (EFE / EPA / MONIRUL ALAM / File)
The variable prevalence of this risk haplotype may contribute to the differences in severity of COVID-19 that have been observed between different populations.
For example, individuals of Bangladeshi descent in the UK have roughly twice the risk of dying from COVID-19 than the general population, the authors note.
“It is remarkable that Neanderthal genetic inheritance has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic, ” Paabo said in a statement. “The reasons for this should be investigated as soon as possible.”
Modern human and Neanderthal races are known to have interbred at various times in history, resulting in a gene exchange that is still present today.
However, genes are one of several risk factors for COVID-19 , including age, gender, and pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure.