Genetic analysis: Neanderthal legacy influences the course of Covid-19 | 02/17/21

LEIPZIG (dpa-AFX) – According to a study, the genetic inheritance of the long-extinct Neanderthals can protect people from a severe Covid-19 course: Neanderthals have left gene variants in the human genome that run the risk of Sars-CoV-2 – Infection seriously ill, probably reduce by a good 20 percent. At least that’s what Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig report in the specialist journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (“PNAS”).

In an earlier work, however, the scientists had found that other Neanderthal gene variants significantly increase the risk of having to be ventilated or of dying in the course of an infection. “This shows that our Neanderthal heritage is a double-edged sword. It has given us variants for which we can both thank and curse the Neanderthals,” explained Zeberg.

The Neanderthals became extinct about 40,000 years ago – but they did not completely disappear. Since they had also fathered children with modern humans in the last millennia of their existence, traces of their genetic make-up are still detectable in our genome. The protective Neanderthal gene variant that has now been discovered is located in an area on chromosome 12. The genes there form enzymes that are involved in the breakdown of virus genes – and the Neanderthal variant seems to be particularly effective in this regard.

The researchers also showed that the protective variant has continued to gain acceptance since the last Ice Age and that it can now be found in the genome of around half of all people outside Africa. “It is noticeable that this Neanderthal variant has established itself in many parts of the world. It may have been useful not only in the current pandemic, but also in the past,” says Pääbo. / Ags / DP / mis


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