Possessing Neanderthal genes can increase the chances of suffering a severe form of COVID-19, a new study out of Germany has shown. People with this genetic cluster are three times as likely to need a ventilator.
A major risk factor for contracting severe forms of COVID-19 is a gene cluster inherited from Neanderthals, according to a study from Germany’s Max Planck Institute published Wednesday. “The probability that humans who inherited this gene variation have to be put on a ventilator when they contract the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 is three times higher,” Hugo Zeberg, an evolutionary anthropologist at the institute, said in a statement. The variation is linked to a higher risk of hospitalization and respiratory failure in people who become infected with the coronavirus. The risk associated with the gene cluster is similar to other risks like age or certain pre-existing conditions. Passed down over generations The study, published in the journal Nature, compared the cluster to genes of Neanderthals and Denisovans. Researchers noted that the DNA sequence was very similar to one found in a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal from Croatia. “It turned out modern humans inherited these gene variations from Neanderthals when they mixed 60,000 years ago,” Zeberg said. Modern humans and Neanderthals interbred throughout various points in history, resulting in an exchange of genetic material that can still be seen by scientists today. Some regions more affected Zeberg and his research partner Svante Paabo were unable to identify why this specific cluster causes complications in COVID-19 patients. “It is alarming that a genetic heritage from the Neanderthals can have such tragic consequences in the current pandemic,” Paabo said, stressing that more research should be done immediately. The gene cluster does not appear equally in different geographical regions, the researchers said. It appears in the genome of nearly half of people in South Asia, in Bangladesh in particular, but only 16% of people in Europe. In Africa and East Asia it is nearly non-existent, they said. A brief history of humankind From molecules to the nuclear bomb Life and death are inseparable. The exhibition “A Brief History of Humankind” in Bonn’s Bundeskunsthalle museum shows how, 13.8 billion years ago, molecules began to connect and turn into structured organisms. The above video still by US artist Bruce Conner shows what could spell the end of evolution: the nuclear bomb. A brief history of humankind A turning point: fire Remains of the oldest Eurasian hearth dating back 780,000 years were discovered on the banks of the river Jordan. The ability to control fire was a turning point in evolutionary history that moved mankind to the top of the food chain. Fire gave light, kept people warm; people cooked over a fire and used it to make stone tools. It was a gathering place – a Stone Age TV. A brief history of humankind The birth of mankind Homo sapiens had a fleeting chin, slanting forehead and a narrow brow ridge. The above skull is about 100,000 years old and was found in Israel, where Homo sapiens co-existed with Neanderthals for quite some time. All of the artifacts displayed in the Bonn exhibition are from Israel – and it’s the first time they are on view in Europe. A brief history of humankind Shaping culture This Neanderthal skull was unearthed in the Amud Cave in Galilee. Anatomically, it is nothing like the skull of Homo sapiens: the chin is even more fleeting, the back of the head shows an indentation. These early humans not only fulfilled their basic needs, archaeologists also found they held burial rituals and other forms of culture. A brief history of humankind Togetherness What makes us human? Family plays a huge role. Apart from historical objects, the exhibition also presents works by contemporary artists. US sculptor Charles Ray’s 1993 “Family Romance” shows the fine line that connects family. In this sculpture, two parents hold their offspring’s hands; however, the normalcy of a nuclear family is disrupted as both son and daughter are as tall as mom and dad. A brief history of humankind Gods made of stone Humans started forming figurines depicting gods about 8,000 years ago, at a time when people were settling, planting fields and forming communities. They created goddesses they could pray to for good harvests and fertility. The phallic shape in the above photo could also symbolize a male god. Lines and etchings indicate abstract portraits. A brief history of humankind External memory aid Unlike animals, humans can collect and write down knowledge. The Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia began to record information and numbers. This clay tablet was inscribed between 4,000 and 3,100 BC, paving the way for the complex memory systems needed to build cities and empires. A brief history of humankind Money instead of shells This coin made of electrum, a gold and silver alloy, is the oldest-known coin in the world. Embossed with the picture of a grazing stag, it is from the seventh century BC. Of course, other forms of payment already existed: sea shells, pearls and promissory notes. A brief history of humankind Home sweet home In the third century BC, Arad was a flourishing business center at the crossroads of two trade routes in the Middle East. For 350 years, it was a magnificent city of palaces, temples and homes. The above model shows a typical square one-room dwelling with a flat roof, dating back to between 3,000 to 2,650 BC. A brief history of humankind Two-faced progress In 1912, Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity, a sensation and a scientific revolution. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem owns the original manuscript to E=mc². The mathematical formula embodies the two sides of progress: With it, mankind gained important insight into physics, but it also enabled the creation of the first nuclear bomb. Author: Sabine Oelze (db) kp/rs (AP, dpa)