Neanderthal genes that make susceptible to Covid-19, also protect against it: Study

Mumbai | Updated on February 17, 2021 Published on February 17, 2021

Last year, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, had published a report that showed major genetic susceptibility to coronavirus in people who have inherited genes from Neanderthals.

Now, the same researchers carried out another study that showed Neandertals also contributed a protective variant.

The study, published in the journal PNAS, stated that half of all people outside Africa carry a Neanderthal gene variant that reduces the risk of needing intensive care for Covid-19 by 20 per cent.

According to researchers, a major genetic risk factor is located on chromosome 3 and dramatically increases the risk of respiratory failure and even death due to coronavirus.

Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo at Karolinska Institutet and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology had found last year that this risk variant is inherited from Neandertals.

Now the research duo demonstrated that the Neandertals also contributed a protective variant to present-day people. They found that a region on chromosome 12 that reduces the risk of needing intensive care upon infection with the virus by 20 per cent is inherited from Neandertals.

The genes in this region are called OAS and regulate the activity of an enzyme that breaks down viral genomes. The Neanderthal variant of the enzyme seems to do this more efficiently, the study noted.

“This shows that our heritage from Neandertals 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,” says Hugo Zeberg, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The study also showed that the protective variant from Neandertals increased in frequency since the last Ice Age so that it is now carried by about half of all people outside Africa.

“It is striking that this Neandertal gene variant has become so common in many parts of the world. This suggests that it has been favorable in the past,” stated Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.”

He added, “It is also striking that two genetic variants inherited from Neandertals influence Covid-19 outcomes in opposite directions. Their immune system obviously influences us in both positive and negative ways today.”

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Published on February 17, 2021
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