Hidden Danger in Your DNA: Neanderthal Genes and the Increased Risk of Severe COVID


Recent research unveiled a startling connection between our ancient ancestors and the modern-day pandemic. If you carry Neanderthal genes, you could be at a significantly higher risk of developing a life-threatening form of COVID-19.

This intriguing discovery was made by a team of scientists who conducted an extensive study on the genetic makeup of individuals affected by the virus.

The researchers identified three gene variants on chromosome 3, known as the 3p21.31 locus, which are linked to a heightened risk of severe COVID-19. These variants were first discovered in the remains of a Neanderthal in Croatia around 50,000 years ago and continue to exist in millions of people today.

Lead author Professor Hugo Zeberg, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, explained the implications of this finding. According to him, carrying one copy of the Neanderthal variant increases the risk of severe COVID-19 by 60 to 70 percent.

This risk triples if you have two copies – one from each parent. Subsequent studies suggest that the risk could be even higher, with a five-fold increase for those with two copies of the variant.

Interestingly, not everyone carries this variant. It is most prevalent among people of South Asian ethnicity, with approximately 50 percent having it. This genetic difference may contribute to the varying severity of COVID-19 observed among different populations.

In Europe, the variant is less common, with only about 16 percent of people carrying it. Bangladesh holds the record for the highest number of carriers at 63 percent.

The study also sheds light on the historical journey of these genes. Neanderthals, our close human ancestors, lived in Africa alongside early humans for millennia before migrating to Europe around 300,000 years ago.

When humans entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago, they interbred with Neanderthals, leading to the presence of these genes in today’s human population.

The research team analyzed a sample of nearly 1,200 people in the Bergamo province of Italy, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in early 2020.

They found 33 percent of people in Bergamo with the Neanderthal haplotype, a set of DNA variants along a single chromosome that tend to be inherited together, developed severe cases of COVID-19.

This discovery underscores the importance of understanding our genetic heritage and its impact on our health. It also highlights the need for personalized medicine and treatments based on individual genetic profiles.