Study: Neanderthal genes may be liability for COVID patients

Scientists say genes some people have inherited from Neanderthal ancestors may increase the likelihood of suffering severe forms of COVID-19

BERLIN -- Scientists say genes that some people have inherited from their Neanderthal ancestors may increase their likelihood of suffering severe forms of COVID-19.

Researchers Hugo Zeberg and Svante Paabo determined that the genes belong to a group, or haplotype, which likely came from Neanderthals. The haplotype is found in about 16% of the population in Europe and half the population in South Asia, while in Africa and East Asia it is non-existent.

Modern humans and Neanderthals are known to have interbred at various points in history, resulting in an exchange of genes than can still be found today.

The genes are one of several risk factors for COVID-19, including age, sex and pre-existing conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

They cited studies from the U.K. showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have about two times higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the general population.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from the Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic," Paabo said in a statement. “Why this is must now be investigated as quickly as possible.”

In a comment ahead of the study’s final publication, Franke said one interesting question arising from the study is why that haploytpe — unlike most Neanderthal genes — survived until today.

“Perhaps it’s good for a very active immune system if one doesn’t have other risk factors,” he suggested.

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