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Covid-19: Genes inherited from Neanderthals can reduce risk of severe illness - in some

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the coronavirus - part of series
the coronavirus - part of series
Luis Diaz Devesa

There are a number of lucky individuals who have a group of genes that reduces their risk of developing severe Covid-19 disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These genes, or DNA variants, are inherited from the Neanderthals (our closest extinct human relatives), and are said to lower the risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 by around 20%, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Japan, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany, and was published in the journal PNAS.

Certain factors, such as older age or underlying conditions – hypertension and diabetes, for example – play a significant role in causing harsher illness in individuals infected with Covid-19, said Professor Svante Pääbo, who leads the Human Evolutionary Genomics Unit at OIST. “But genetic factors also play an important role, and some of these have been contributed to present-day people by Neanderthals,” he added.

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