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article imageInherited Neanderthal genes a major risk factor in COVID-19

By Karen Graham     Sep 30, 2020 in Science
Since first appearing in late 2019, COVID-19 has had a range of impacts on those it infects. Some people become severely ill with COVID-19, and require hospitalization, while others may have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
There are a number of factors that can determine a person's susceptibility to a severe SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19 infection, including age and pre-existing conditions, like obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. However, Science Daily is reporting that one's genetics can also plays a role.
The COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative - is a group that brings together the human genetics community to generate, share, and analyze data to learn the genetic determinants of COVID-19 susceptibility, severity, and outcomes.
Just a few months ago, a genetic association study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June found severe COVID-19-related variants in around half a dozen genes at a chromosome 3 locus known as 3p21.31. About the same time, scientists with the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative found the same locus during a preliminary analysis of their collected data.
In short supply: ventilators are needed to help the worst-hit COVID-19 victims to keep breathing
In short supply: ventilators are needed to help the worst-hit COVID-19 victims to keep breathing
Axel Heimken, POOL/AFP/File
They found genetic variants in one region on chromosome 3 that can pose a larger risk that their carriers will develop respiratory failure as a result of a SARS-CoV-2 infection, reports Genome Web.
Chromosomes and what they do
Chromosomes are tiny structures found in the nuclei of cells, and carry an organism's genetic material. Chromosomes comes in pairs, with one chromosome in each pair inherited from each parent. Humans have 23 of these pairs. This means that 46 chromosomes carry the entirety of our DNA.
For the study, the researchers looked at 3,199 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and those who had COVID-19 but were not hospitalized. In those patients carrying the gene cluster on chromosome 3, the scientists found the variant most associated with severe COVID-19 outcomes are all in high linkage disequilibrium, and they span more than 49,000 bases.
This image is a computer generated representation of COVID-19 virions (SARS-CoV-2) under electron mi...
This image is a computer generated representation of COVID-19 virions (SARS-CoV-2) under electron microscope.
Felipe Esquivel Reed(CC BY-SA 4.0)
The researchers also found this haplotype is in weaker linkage disequilibrium with longer haplotypes of up to 333.8 kilobases. They already were aware that some haplotypes of this length entered the human population by gene flow from Neanderthals or Denisovans, so the investigators looked to see whether this particular haplotype also made its way into the modern human genome from these related groups.
An inherited gene cluster
This gene cluster on chromosome 3 was inherited by modern humans from Neanderthals, according to the new study published in the Journal Nature on Wednesday, September 30. The authors of this interesting study are Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.,
Skeleton and restoration model of Neanderthal (La Ferrassie 1). Exhibit in the National Museum of Na...
Skeleton and restoration model of Neanderthal (La Ferrassie 1). Exhibit in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan.
By Photaro ( (CC BY-SA 3.0)
In the study, the authors say that their research found that the gene cluster on chromosome 3 is almost identical to that of a 50,000-year old Neanderthal from southern Europe. Further analysis has shown that, through interbreeding, the variants came over to the ancestors of modern humans about 60,000 years ago.
This genetic variant is carried by about 50 percent of people in South Asia and about 16 percent of people in Europe today, while in Africa and East Asia it is nonexistent. "Today, the people who inherited this gene variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if they are infected by the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2," Zeberg said in a statement.
Zeberg and Pääbo were also able to conclude that the risk variants did not derive from the common ancestor between Neanderthals and humans, but that the risk haplotype entered the modern human population directly from Neanderthals.
More about Covid19, Neanderthal genes, severe illness, sarscov2, Evolutionary genetics
 
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