Major Genetic Risk Factor for COVID-19 Inherited from Neanderthals, Study Suggests

Since first appearing in late 2019, the novel virus, SARS-CoV-2, has had a range of impacts on those it infects. Some people become severely ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and require hospitalization, whereas others have mild symptoms or are even asymptomatic. There are several factors that influence a person's susceptibility to having a severe reaction, such as their age and the existence of other medical conditions. But one's genetics also plays a role, and, over the last few months, research by the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative ( has shown that genetic variants in one region on chromosome 3 impose a larger risk. Now, a new study, published online on September 30, 2020 in Nature (, has revealed that this genetic region 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. The Nature article is titled “The Major Genetic Risk Factor for Severe COVID-19 Is Inherited From Neanderthals.” "It Is Striking That The Genetic Heritage From Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic," said Professor Svante Pääbo, who leads the Human Evolutionary Genomics Unit ( at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). Chromosomes are tiny structures that are found in the nucleus of cells and carry an organism's genetic material. They come in pairs with one chromosome in each pair inherited from each parent. Humans have 23 of these pairs.
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