Researchers have discovered a possible genetic link between Neanderthal DNA and a lower risk of developing a severe case of the coronavirus.
A new study, conducted by Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, followed up on recent research that suggested Neanderthal DNA was actually linked to higher risk of severe illness.
They found that a certain haplogroup, a population that shares common DNA, was roughly 22 percent less likely to develop a severe case of COVID-19. The common DNA is believed to have been inherited from Neanderthals.
The haplogroup is common in populations outside of Africa, the study notes, as Neanderthal evolved off the continent.
The Neanderthal DNA believed to protect against illness was found on the 12th chromosome, while the DNA discovered in a previous study that researchers theorized increased the chances of severe illness was found on the third chromosome.
The researchers said that Neanderthals and their Asian sister group the Denisovans became extinct tens of thousands of years ago, but their genetic impact still lingers today.
“Some of these contributions may reflect adaptations to environments outside Africa where Neanderthals lived over several hundred thousands of years. During this time, they are likely to have adapted to infectious diseases, which are known to be strong selective factors that may, at least partly, have differed between sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia,” they wrote.
The study suggested that the Neanderthal DNA that protects against severe illness may have occurred due to past epidemics that were caused by RNA viruses, a category that includes the coronavirus.