Recent research has suggested that Neanderthal genes may be responsible for severe cases of COVID-19 in some people. The paper which has been accepted for publication by Nature Research involved a team of experts on Neanderthal genetics which examined a strand of DNA that has been associated with some of the more serious cases of coronavirus. The team compared the DNA strands, found on chromosome 3, to sequences that are known to have been passed down to Europeans and Asians from Neanderthal ancestors.
The team of researchers in Europe has linked certain variations in this sequence with the risk of being more severely affected by the virus. The research showed that the genes are carried by 50% of people in South Asia and 16% of people in Europe today.
Svante Paabo and Hugo Zeberg of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who worked on the research said that this gene variant was inherited by modern humans from the Neanderthals when they interbred some 60,000 years ago.
"Today, the people who inherited this gene variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if they are infected by the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2," said Zeberg. The two scientists also found similar variations in the DNA from a 50,000 year old Neanderthal skeleton found in Croatia and a few of them from skeletons found in Siberia also.
Modern humans interbred with Neanderthals and another species of Denisovans, tens of thousands of years ago according to studies.
It is estimated that about 2% of DNA in people of European and Asian descent can be traced back to Neanderthals.
However, researchers do not know currently what feature in the Neanderthal-derived region confers risk for severe COVID-19 and if the effects of any such feature are specific to SARS-CoV-2, to other coronaviruses, or to other pathogens.