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Some Neanderthal genes in people today can protect against severe COVID-19

Some genetic variants inherited from Neanderthals may protect against the development of severe COVID-19.

A new study looked at a stretch of DNA on chromosome 12 where a haplotype (a cluster of genetically inherited genetic variants) that affects coronavirus susceptibility is located. For every copy of the Neanderthal haplotype that a person inherited, the risk of needing intensive care dropped by about 22 percent, according to researchers in the March 2 minutes of the National Academy of Sciences.

Variants can affect the activity or function of genes involved in a biochemical chain reaction that ends with the destruction of viral RNA, including coronavirus. Protective variants are largely absent among people in sub-Saharan Africa, where few people carry genes inherited from Neanderthals. About 25 to 30 percent of current people of Asian and European descent wear protective variants. Some blacks in the Americas also inherited the protective haplotype, presumably from Asian, European, or Native American ancestors.

Previously, researchers found that a different haplotype on chromosome 3 inherited from Neanderthals increases the risk of serious disease (SN: 02/10/20). The results show that genetic inheritance can help or hinder the immune response to disease.

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