A group of researchers conducted a study that found that some people may have inherited Neanderthal genes that reduce the risk of contracting severe COVID-19 by 22 percent. These inherited genes are said to be more common in people of European and Asian descent. Neanderthals are a human species that became extinct about 40,000 years ago.
Neanderthals are thought to have passed on some genetic material to modern humans through hybridization. Researchers We believe that Neanderthal DNA makes up between one and two percent of the genomes of people of European and Asian descent. While the percentage of DNA inherited from Neanderthals is small, the small portion of the DNA can hold clues about the immune system’s response to pathogens.
The DNA feature comes from the haplotype, which is a long block of DNA, on chromosome 12. This haplotype has appeared in the past to protect people from West Nile, Hepatitis C, and SARS. It may also help provide some immunity against SARS-CoV-2, which shares many genetic similarities to the original virus strain.
For the study, the team relied on the genomes of three Neanderthal samples, with remains of two found in Siberia and one in Croatia. Date DNA was used between 50,000 and 120,000 years ago. Researchers compared the genomes of those samples with the DNA of thousands of people with severe COVID-19. The less severe COVID-19-associated haplotype was found in all three Neanderthal genomes.
The haplotype in question specifically codes for proteins that activate enzymes that aid in the degradation of RNA viruses. Strangely, while this particular haplotype helps fight COVID, the same researchers found in another study that the haplotype inherited from Neanderthals on chromosome 3 could put people at greater risk for respiratory failure due to COVID-19. This genetic assembly of DNA was discovered in Neanderthals from Croatia.