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Neanderthal gene variant increases risk of severe course of Covid-19

The risk of a severe form of the disease is up to three times higher in people with this variant

Some people are much more affected by Covid-19 than others. Some of the reasons for this, such as old age, are already known, but other, as yet unknown factors also play a role. This summer, a large international study found that a group of genes on chromosome 3 is linked to a higher risk of needing hospital treatment and mechanical ventilation if you contract Covid-19. Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have now analyzed the gene cluster.

Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo have discovered that the DNA sequence in the variant of the gene cluster associated with a higher risk of developing a severe course of Covid-19 is very similar to the DNA sequences of an approximately 50.000-year-old Neanderthal from Croatia and descended from Neanderthals. "It turns out that modern humans inherited this gene variant from Neanderthals when they interbred about 60.000 years ago," says Zeberg. "The probability that people who have inherited this gene variant will need artificial ventilation if they are infected with the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 is about three times higher."

The study also shows significant differences in the prevalence of this genetic risk variant in different parts of the world. It is particularly common in people in South Asia, where about half of the population carries the Neanderthal variant in their genome. In Europe, one in six people has inherited the risk variant, while in Africa and East Asia it is virtually non-existent. However, the study does not provide an explanation as to why people with this gene variant are at higher risk. "It is chilling that the genetic heritage of Neanderthals is having such a tragic impact during the current pandemic. Why this is so needs to be researched as soon as possible,” says Svante Pääbo, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Source: Press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology from September 30.09.2020th, XNUMX

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