COVID-19 has left the world under lockdown. According to researchers in Germany, it was found that genes inherited from Neanderthal ancestors might be the reason why people experience severe COVID-19. A strand of DNA that was associated with individuals who were in critical condition due to COVID-19 was examined by a team of Neanderthal genetics experts and compared with sequences passed down to living Asians and Europeans from Neanderthal ancestors.
This DNA strand is found on chromosome 3 and it is linked to certain variations in the sequence which put people at a greater risk of getting more severely ill during the pandemic. The risk is conferred based on a genomic segment that is inherited from the Neanderthals. It is carried by half of South Asians and 16 percent of Europeans today as reported by Hugo Zeberg and Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Zeberg had said that it turns out that it is this gene variant which has been inherited by modern humans from Neanderthals during interbreeding around 60,000 years ago. Thus, people who have inherited the gene variant are about three times as more likely to require artificial ventilation if they were to get infected by the Sars-CoV-2.
Similar DNA variations were found in a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skeleton in Croatia and also in a few skeletons in Siberia. Studies reveal that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred as well as with a related species called Denisovans some tens of thousands of years ago. According to studies, around 2 percent of DNA in people of Asian and European descent can be easily traced all the way back to Neanderthals.
The researchers wrote that it is still not known which feature in the Neanderthal-derived area is at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 and its effects on any feature specific to Sars-CoV-2. However, according to Dr. Jeffery Barret who is a geneticist at the Sanger Institute in Britain, there is nothing biologically or medically special about the fact that the variant arose in Neanderthals. The geneticist was not involved in the study.
One of the things that cannot be denied is the fact that humans tend to have a great amount of genetic diversity. Some of the genetic diversity arose in Neanderthals and some when ancient humans lived in Africa. Barret states that this particular stretch of DNA only reveals a small percentage of difference in the severity of COVID-19 in patients. It was concluded by Zeberg and Paabo that gene flow from Neanderthals experiences tragic consequences during the current pandemic.