Study Says Neanderthal DNA Linked To Improved COVID-19 Outcomes

Story By: Georgina JadikovskaSub-Editor: Marija Stojkoska, Agency:  Newsflash

A new study has shown that a Neanderthal genetic variant found in half of the people outside the African continent can decrease the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.

It follows a previous study that showed that another Neanderthal genetic variant had the opposite outcome.

Both studies were carried out by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the German city of Leipzig and the Karolinska Institute in the Swedish city of Solna.

Mattias Karlen/Newsflash

The teams recently concluded that around 50 percent of people outside Africa carry a Neanderthal genetic variant that helps to reduce the risk of intensive care admission amongst COVID-19 patients by 20 percent.

This new evidence comes in the wake of the team’s finding last year that pointed towards a Neanderthal genetic variant that sharply increases the risk of respiratory failure and death amongst COVID-19 sufferers.

Whereas the finding last year is linked to chromosome 3, the new finding is linked to chromosome 12 regarding the activity of an enzyme that breaks down viral genomes. The enzyme’s Neanderthal variant is believed to do this more efficiently.

Neanderthals became extinct around 40,000 years ago. However, prior interbreeding with modern humans means that genetic material inherited from them can be found in all populations today, though to a much lesser extent in Africa.

The specific Neanderthal genetic variant that apparently reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms is said to be found in around half of people outside Africa.

While Europeans and East Asians are believed to have inherited about two percent of their DNA from Neanderthals, Africans have Neanderthal DNA of around 0.3 percent of their genome, according to a January 2020 report in academic journal ‘Science’.

In the wake of the latest finding, researcher Hugo Zeberg said: “This shows that our heritage from Neanderthals is a double-edged sword when it comes to our response to Sars-CoV-2. They have given us variants that we can both curse and thank them for.”

Fellow researcher Svante Paabo concurred, saying: “It is…striking that two genetic variants inherited from Neanderthals influence COVID-19 outcomes in opposite directions. Their immune system obviously influences us in both positive and negative ways today.”

Details of the new finding were published in the scientific journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’.

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