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Issue 138 Winter 2020

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Neanderthal origin of genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19

| Hot topics



Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Just because COVID-19 has made us all miserable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t marvel at some of the science it has generated. The symptoms of COVID-19 range widely in both severity and incidence. Moreover, our understanding of the risk factors is continually developing.

Despite the intensity of work taking place, there remains no overall consensus over the genetic risk factors at play. An initial study in New England Journal of Medicine identified chromosome 3 (3p.21.31) as a locus for susceptibility to COVID-19. Zeberg and Pääbo have now extended this genetic trail to suggest that carrying a genetic Neanderthal background may play a role in determining the severity of COVID-19 symptoms experienced. They took the earlier finding and examined Neanderthal DNA for the occurrence of this ‘COVID-19 locus’. They showed that the Neanderthals carried the same mutations in the highlighted region. Although many non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA, the existence of the 3p21.31 locus is variable. Presently, 50% of people in South Asia and 16% of those in Europe are carriers of these regions.

This study doesn’t suggest that those carrying Neanderthal DNA will have increased susceptibility, but we can use this to speculate as to its place in the pecking order of risk factors.

Read the full article in Nature doi:10.1038/ s41586-020-2818-3




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