low mortality in Africa could be explained by … Neanderthals

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Scientists around the world have been working for months to understand the new coronavirus, its modes of transmission but also the aggravating factors of the Covid-19 disease. Two of them raised, Wednesday, September 30 in the journal “Nature”, the hypothesis of the impact of our genetic inheritance coming from the Neanderthals on the most serious forms.

The one that “the World”, which reports information, describes as the “pope” of ancient genomes, Svante Pääbo (Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig) as well as his colleague Hugo Zeberg (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm), were interested in chromosomal fragments found on Neanderthal fossils and present in certain populations today. According to them, they triple the risk of developing a severe form of respiratory distress.

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Based on two studies on the identification of genetic risk factors associated with severe forms, one published on June 19 in the « New England Journal of Medicine », the other from the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative, Svante Pääbo and Hugo Zeberg looked at the role of a region of chromosome three encompassing six genes.

As reported by “Le Monde”, this “aggravating” variant was present in duplicate in the genome of the Neanderthal fossil Vindija 33.19, which lived in present-day Croatia 50,000 years ago.

An aggravating variant almost absent in African populations

This genetic inheritance, which has spanned tens of thousands of years, is not present in the same proportions everywhere in the world: what is called the “aggravating variant” is thus almost completely absent in Africa but can occur. found in one in six Europeans (16%) and in one in two people from South Asia. The highest proportion of carriers is found in Bangladesh, with 63% of the population having at least one copy of the variant at risk, and 13% having two copies, on chromosome pair 3.

However, as the daily recalls, a recent study by the Public Health England agency affirmed that people from Bangladesh hospitalized in Great Britain for Covid-19 were twice as likely to die from it than the general population. The hypothesis of Svante Pääbo and Hugo Zeberg could also explain the low mortality in Africa.

“Age remains the main risk factor for the severity of Covid-19, specifies Svante Pääbo, quoted by “the World”. To put the risks into perspective, if you are a carrier of one copy of the Neanderthal variant, it is like being ten years older than your actual age, and twenty years older with two copies. “

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He and his colleague assure him: if further research needs to be done on this region of the genome, ” with regard to the current pandemic, it is clear that the gene flow from the Neanderthals has tragic consequences ”.

Lluis Quintana Murci, from the Collège de France and the Institut Pasteur, has already worked on the impact of the Neanderthal heritage on human health. To the daily, he argues that “This extremely reactive immune system in the past is now turning against us”. And to add that “As of tomorrow, we are going to Neanderthalize human cells to study the functional effects of this variant”.







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