Sunday, 25 October 2020

Covid-19 - Neanderthal's Revenge?

The ancient Neanderthal hand in severe COVID-19 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST

Who would have thought that some of the Neanderthal DNA we inherited from those of our ancestors who interbred with them, could be causing some of us to suffer much more with Covid-19 than those of us who don't have those particular bits of Neanderthal DNA?

Yet that's the conclusion of a two researches, Hugo Zeberg of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany and the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden and Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Onna, Japan.

Their findings were published in Nature on September 30, 2020.

Learn how genes from Neanderthals still influence us from evolutionary geneticist Dr. Svante Pääbo, Director, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology & Adjunct Professor at OIST.

Webinar sponsored by the OIST Foundation.
The COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, studying the genetic differences that make some people more susceptible to a sever form of the disease has found that variants in one region of chromosome 3 make the carrier three times more likely to require mechanical ventilation if infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The 13 variants in this region of Chromosome 3 are closely linked, so someone with one variant is likely to have all thirteen. A linked cluster such as this is typical of genes inherited from Neanderthals, so the researchers set out to investigate any connection.

Now Svante Pääbo and colleagues have shown that Neanderthals from southern Europe had an almost identical genetic region whereas two Neanderthals from southern Siberia and a Denisovan did not.

These genetic variants are almost completely absent in Africa and occur in the highest frequency in Bangladesh.
Credit: Professor Svante Pääbo and Professor Hugo Zeberg.
This figure appeared in the publication in Nature.
Because these regions in Southern European Neanderthals and modern humans are so similar, it is probable that moderns acquired them from interbreeding some 60,000 years ago rather than from a common ancestor which would have lived about 550,000 years ago. Had they diverged that long ago there should be many more differences between the modern and Neanderthal DNA in this region.

Interestingly, these variants are now most common in South Asia where about 50% of the population carry them. In Africa and East Asia they are almost unknown. This gives a clue as to the likely migration route taken by modern humans after they contacted and interbred with the Southern European Neanderthals.

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