BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: neanderthals

Shocking Connection Between Ancient Neanderthals and COVID-19

As stated in an article that details the shocking discoveries of an investigation led by Professors Svante Pääbo and Hugo Zeberg, genetic material from our neanderthal ancestors can be linked to the development of severe COVID-19. COVID-19, as I am sure you are all aware, is the disease ravaging the world and is caused by the newly

discovered coronavirus. While most people only have mild reactions to the disease and recover relatively easily, some people with underlying conditions may have a severe reaction to the disease and require hospitalization. However, this new study indicates that certain people may be genetically predisposed to a severe COVID-19 reaction, and it all links back to our 60,000-year-old Neanderthal ancestors.

The study that discovered this connection analyzed the genetic material of 3,000 patients who had both severe and mild COVID-19. The study identified a section of the chromosome that contained the genetic material responsible for the severe COVID-19. Chromosomes are tiny structures located in the nucleus of cells and these structures hold the genetic material that determines virtually everything about the cell. This genetic material is made up of nucleic acids that — when combined into a double-strand helix by covalent bonds between the phosphate, sugar, and base groups– create DNA. The order of the bases in the chain determines the amino acid sequence. We inherit our genetic material from our parents, and chromosomes are present in pairs, with one part of the pair inherited from each parent. This means that you hold genetic information from your earliest ancestors, which could potentially include Neanderthals. Neanderthals were archaic humanoids that were eventually assimilated into the homo sapien species.  However, cross-breeding was required to absorb the Neanderthals into our species, which means that most of the people alive today have a percentage of Neanderthal DNA. If a person holds one of the thirteen variants that are present in Neanderthal DNA, they are far more likely to have severe COVID-19.

Professors Pääbo and Zeberg proved this to be true by discovering that the Neanderthal variants distinctly matched the variants associated with severe COVID-19. However, they discovered that the genetic material only originated from Neanderthals located in southern Europe. Therefore, they concluded that when the Neanderthals of southern Europe merged with present-day people 60,000 years ago, they introduced the DNA region responsible for severe cases of COVID-19. Additionally, the people who possess these Neanderthal variants today are three times more likely to have severe COVID-19. The fact that I found the most interesting is how dramatically the presence of the variants vary in different parts of the world. For example, in South Asia, 50% of the population holds the variants, but in East Asia, almost nobody has them. I also think that it is rather tragic how genetic material that has not had any effect on the world for 60,000 years is just now becoming active. What do you think about this discovery? Why do you believe Neanderthal DNA is causing these extreme cases?

 

Gosh…You’re Such a Caveperson!

Do you know your ancestry?  While all humans beings have their own varying histories, many are held together by one ancestral truth. They are all partly Neanderthals!  A new Neanderthal woman has been found in Croatia, and the tests being performed on her are changing the way scientists perceive human genealogy.

This discovery may be more impactful news for humans that originated outside of Africa.  For those who migrated out of Africa, scientists have cause to believe that Neanderthal DNA accounts for 1.8 to 2.6 percent of their DNA!  Considering that the common belief had been that Neanderthals accounted for 1.5 to 2.1 percent, this new knowledge is a great leap forward in understanding the way that evolution and ancestry shape the life of the modern human.  The genes that Neanderthals contributed to the modern human may affect cholesterol, mental health, body fat levels, and more.  Don’t be too alarmed about the potential negative side effects of sharing Neanderthal DNA, though.  The lead author on the study, Kay Prüfer, clarified that Neanderthal DNA is not definitively bad for your health.  He said, “We find one variant that is associated with LDL cholesterol, and the variant we got from Neanderthals is associated with lower LDL cholesterol.” So, rest assured.  Neanderthal DNA does not mean you will have certain health issues. It only means that you can.

These studies are not only teaching scientists about humans, though.  By comparing the bone fragments of the Neanderthal found in Croatia with another Neanderthal found in Siberia, scientists discovered that Neanderthals are extremely similar in DNA to one another.  Despite being from different parts of the world, both Neanderthals had strikingly close DNA structure.  This closeness in DNA is most likely a cause of a small population.  All of this information sheds a light on the low density of the Neanderthal population as well as their way of living.

While this discovery has greatly reshaped the way that we view modern human DNA, research on Neanderthals persists. Scientists hope to find even more information that will teach people about the history of Neanderthals as well as their influence on the human race.

 

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