Is Neanderthal Covid-19 Genes Good or Bad?

In 2020, researchers claimed that they had discovered a Neanderthal Covid gene that diminished our ability to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. Now, a new research project in Japan has identified a group of three genes in human DNA, inherited from Neanderthals, that to help cells of the body while trying to defeat invading viruses. These genes can reduce the risk of developing severe Covid-19 “by approximately 20%.”

Identification of “Neanderthal genes resistant to Covid-19”

The team of researchers from the Graduate University of Japan’s Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany found that interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals meant that we inherited the gene about 60,000 years ago. . Scientists have now determined that having this gene can help you fight SARS-CoV-2, which affects people in different ways, from no symptoms to respiratory failure and death.

Last year in a Ancient origins news article I discussed the findings of Professors Svante Pääbo, who heads the Human Evolutionary Genomics Unit at OIST in Japan, and his colleague Hugo Zeberg. The couple of genetic scientists published a controversial report in Nature stating that “the greatest genetic risk factor identified so far, doubling the risk of developing severe Covid-19 when infected by the virus, was inherited from Neanderthals.” In fact, the article said that the Neanderthal gene “increases the risk of developing severe Covid-19.”

Now, the same group of genes has been found to be beneficial for around 20% of people and can help reduce the risk of becoming seriously ill and being hospitalized with Covid-19. This new research has just been published in PNAS.

Recent research shows that the gene called

Recent research shows that the gene called the “Neanderthal Covid gene” can affect our ability to develop severe symptoms of Covid-19. ( Perig production / Adobe Stock)

22% lower risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms

The same pair of scientists have now published a new study based on the findings of a 2020 study by Genetics of mortality in intensive care ( GenOMICC). This UK-based project analyzed the genome sequences of “2,244 people who developed severe COvid-19” and identified additional genetic regions on four chromosomes that affect the way people respond to the virus when infected. The research shows human genes “almost identical to those found in three Neanderthals: a ~ 50,000-year-old Neanderthal from Croatia and two Neanderthals, one around 70,000 years old and the other 120,000 years old, from southern Siberia.”

Scientists are clear that conditions like diabetes and obesity greatly amplify the effects of Covid-19. However, “surprisingly”, this second genetic factor influences Covid-19 results in the opposite direction to the first genetic factor, “providing protection rather than increasing the risk of developing severe Covid-19.” For those who like to stay abreast of advances in DNA science, this Neanderthal variant was discovered on chromosome 12. And to be precise, having this gene reduces the risk of requiring intensive care after Covid infection. -19 by about 22%.

Geographical distribution of the Neanderthal Covid gene that can reduce the risk of developing severe Covid-19.  (OpenStreetMap / 1000 Genomes project)

Geographical distribution of the Neanderthal Covid gene that can reduce the risk of developing severe Covid-19. ( OpenStreetMap / 1000 Genomes Project )

How Neanderthal Genetic Variants Affect Us Today

In trying to understand how this Neolithic genetic variant affects Covid-19 results, the research team examined three genes located in a recently identified region. Known as OEA , the body produces these defensive enzymes in case of viral infection and they stimulate other enzymes that attack and degrade the viral genomes housed within infected cells. In a press release from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, Professor Pääbo explained that “it is quite surprising that, even though Neanderthals were extinct some 40,000 years ago, their immune systems still it influences us both positively and negatively. ”

In their new study, the researchers also looked at how the newly discovered Neanderthal-like genetic variants “changed in frequency after ending up in modern humans about 60,000 years ago.” Professor Pääbo commented that the enzymes encoded by the Neanderthal variant “are more efficient” in reducing the possibility of serious consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Furthermore, the results of the new study show that the Neanderthal variant “increased in frequency after the last Ice Age and then increased in frequency again during the last millennium.”

The bad Neanderthal gene is not a Japanese “thing” at all

The fact that Neanderthals developed this gene more than 60,000 years ago suggested to the researchers that it must have been beneficial in the past as well, “perhaps during other outbreaks of diseases caused by RNA viruses,” said Professor Pääbo. The gene is present today in about half of people living outside of Africa and in about 30% of people in Japan.

Going back for a moment to last year’s article that identified a Neanderthal gene that posed “a significant health risk.” Japanese scientists must have been somewhat relieved to discover in their new study that this negative genetic variant inherited from Neanderthals is almost non-measurable in modern Japanese populations.

Top image: New research has found that a group of genes, called Neanderthal covid genes, reduce the risk of developing severe Covid-19 by around 20% and have been inherited from Neanderthals. Source: Bjorn Oberg / Karolinska Institute

By Ashley Cowie


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