DNA from Neanderthals can make Covid more severe

Covid-19 patients with a snippet of Neanderthal DNA that crossed into the human genome some 60,000 years ago run a higher risk of severe complications from the disease, researchers have reported.

People infected with the new coronavirus, for example, who carry the genetic coding bequeathed by our early human cousins are three times more likely to need mechanical ventilation, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature.

There are many reasons why some people with Covid-19 wind up in intensive care and other have only light symptoms, or none at all.

Advanced age, being a man, and pre-existing medical problems can all increase the odds of a serious outcome.

But genetic factors can also play a role, as the new findings makes clear.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic,” said co-author Svante Paabo, director of the department of genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Recent research by the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative revealed that a genetic variant in a particular region of chromosome 3 — one of 23 chromosomes in the human genome — is associated with more severe forms of the disease.

That same region was known to harbour genetic code of Neanderthal origins, so Paabo and co-author Hugo Zeberg, also from Max Planck, decided to look for a link with Covid-19. (AFP | Marlowe Hood)

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