A group of genes passed down from extinct human cousins is linked with a higher risk for severe COVID-19, researchers say.
When they compared the genetic profiles of about 3,200 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and nearly 900,000 people from the general population, they found that a cluster of genes on chromosome 3 inherited from Neanderthals who lived more than 50,000 years ago is linked with 60% higher odds of needing hospitalization.
People with COVID-19 who inherited this gene cluster are also more likely to need artificial breathing assistance, coauthor Hugo Zeberg of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said in a news release.
The prevalence of these genes varies widely, according to a report published Wednesday in Nature.
In South Asia, roughly 30% of people have them, compared to 17% found in Europeans. They are almost non-existent in Africa and East Asia.
While the study cannot explain why these particular genes confer a higher risk, the authors conclude, “with respect to the current pandemic, it is clear that gene flow from Neanderthals has tragic consequences.”
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