Randy NEANDERTHAL may be to blame for the gene that caused up to a million people to die from Covid
A single amorous Neanderthal may be responsible for passing on a genetic quirk to as many as a million people who died of Covid.
To date, about 6.3 million people worldwide have died from the coronavirus that caused the pandemic.
A large number have lost their lives because they have a relatively common genetic quirk that makes the lungs more susceptible to infection.
Now, the expert whose research determined the effect of the genetic difference on the lungs has said it came from just a single “romantic connection” between a Neanderthal and a member of our own human species.
Had this one sex act not taken place 60,000 years ago, many lives would have been saved from the deadly virus.
Neanderthals were a species that lived alongside humans tens of thousands of years ago and were very similar in appearance and size, but were generally sturdier and more muscular (Pictured: A replica of a male Neanderthal head at the Natural History Museum in London)
WHO WERE NEANDERTHALS?
Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out about 40,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa for millennia with early humans before moving to Europe about 300,000 years ago.
They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia about 48,000 years ago.
These were the original ‘troglodytes’, traditionally considered stupid and brutal.
But in recent years, the evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of “caveman.”
It now seems likely that Neanderthals buried their dead, painted, and even interbred with humans.
Professor James Davies, associate professor of genomics in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, told Cheltenham Science Festival: ‘If you think about it, this comes from a single interspecies relationship and a single child.
“And if the dinner date between humans and Neanderthals had gone wrong, we would have had a much better time in Covid and would have lost hundreds of thousands of deaths.”
When asked for a rough estimate of exactly how many people have died from Covid as a result of the 60,000-year-old sexual act, he said: “It runs into the hundreds of thousands to a million.”
The role of Neanderthals in making humans more susceptible to Covid was first revealed in 2020.
But the one-time “romantic connection” behind it was revealed through careful analysis of “letters” in our genetic code.
DNA is made up of thousands of combinations of the letters A, C, G, and T, which represent four different chemicals.
But people with the high-risk genetic idiosyncrasy for Covid have exactly the same 28 differences in the letters of their genetic code.
That makes it almost certain that they are all descended from the same two humans, rather than the product of many Neanderthals having sex with many Homo sapiens.
DNA is made up of four building blocks called nucleotides: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C)
NEANDERTHAL GENES LINKED TO SERIOUS SYMPTOMS OF COVID
Neanderthal genes are already thought to be a cause of more severe Covid symptoms.
A genetic variation is present in modern humans because our ancestors had sex with Neanderthals about 60,000 years ago.
People who have the variation, found on chromosome three, are up to three times more likely to need ventilators if they contract the virus.
Professor Davies told the science festival: “We think it’s a single romantic connection, and the reason we know that is it’s inherited like this block of 28 one-letter changes, and you can trace that all the way back and it should be.” a single event.’
Simon Underdown, a professor of biological anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, who also addressed the festival audience, said: “I want you to keep in mind, when we start thinking about the time when Neanderthals and Homo sapiens ran into each other dinner date, how way back in time this was, and 60,000 years later, we see the impact of that encounter in today’s world in more severe forms of Covid.”
He added: “The average Neanderthal group size is estimated to be about 20 to 25 individuals, so these are small, small groups spread over a continental scale.”
He described the chances of Neanderthals running into each other, let alone Homo sapiens, as “unlikely,” which made the sexual encounter that introduced the Covid-related gene into modern humans remarkable.
Once Neanderthals and Homo sapiens met, it’s unlikely they realized they were different species, so happily crossed.
The genetic variation that some people now have, coming from Neanderthals, is linked to a gene called LZTFL1 and is believed to act on lung cells.
These cells develop more of an important protein on their surface, to which the coronavirus can attach and spread through the lungs, causing more damage that can be fatal.
The genetic quirk is more common in people of South Asian descent and could partly explain the high death toll in India during the pandemic.
Professor Davies said: ‘If you think about it, this comes from a single interspecies relationship and a single child.
“And if the dinner between humans and Neanderthals had gone wrong, we would have been much better off in Covid and killed by hundreds of thousands.”
However, it has also been suggested that Neanderthal genes help humans by making us more intelligent, helping us adapt quickly to new diets, and boosting the immune system to fight off harmful viruses and bacteria.
GENES, GENES AND DNA: A PRIMER
Gene: a short piece of DNA
chromosome: a package of genes and other pieces of DNA and proteins
genome: the complete set of DNA of an organism
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid – a long molecule containing a unique genetic code
Your genome is the instructions for making and maintaining you. It is written in a chemical code called DNA. All living things – plants, bacteria, viruses and animals – have a genome.
Your genome consists of all 3.2 billion letters of your DNA. It contains about 20,000 genes.
Genes are the instructions for making the proteins that make up our bodies – from the keratin in hair and fingernails to the antibody proteins that fight infection.
Source: Genomics England/Your Genome/Cancer Research