Randy NEANDERTHAL could be responsible for the gene that caused the deaths of up to a million people from Covid

A single loving Neanderthal could be responsible for passing on a genetic oddity to a million people who have died from Covid.

To date, approximately 6.3 million people have died from the worldwide coronavirus that caused the pandemic.

A huge number of people have lost their lives due to a relatively common genetic quirk that makes their lungs more susceptible to infection.

Now the expert whose research identified the effect of the genetic difference on the lungs said it came from a single “romantic connection” between a Neanderthal and a member of our own human species.

If this sexual act hadn’t happened 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 stockier and more muscular (pictured: a replica of a male Neanderthal head in the History Museum London Natural)

WHO WERE NEANDERTHAL?

Neanderthals were a close human ancestor who mysteriously went extinct some 40,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving to Europe around 300,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia about 48,000 years ago.

These were the original “cavemen”, historically believed to be dull and brutal.

But in recent years, evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented type of “caveman”.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals have 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 the Cheltenham Science Festival: ‘If you stop to think about it, this comes from a single interspecies relationship and a single child.

“And if the dinner date between the human and the Neanderthal had gone wrong, we would have had a lot of fun with Covid and we would have had hundreds of thousands fewer deaths.”

Asked for a rough estimate of how many people could have died of Covid as a result of the 60,000-year-old sexual act, he said: “They are between hundreds of thousands and a million.”

The role of Neanderthals in making humans more susceptible to Covid was first revealed in 2020.

But the only “romantic link” behind it was revealed by careful analysis of the “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 Covid genetic weirdness have exactly the same 28 letter differences in their genetic code.

This makes it almost certain that they are all descended from the same two people, rather than the product of many Neanderthals who have sex with many Homo sapiens.

DNA is made up of four building blocks called nucleotides: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C).

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 the more severe symptoms of Covid.

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 ventilation if they contract the virus.

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Professor Davies said at the science festival: “We think it’s a single romantic bond, and the reason we know it is that it’s inherited like this block with 28 one-letter changes, and you can trace it all the way down and it has to 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 moment when Neanderthals and Homo sapiens met and attended that dinner given, how far back in time and 60,000 years later, we are seeing the impact of that meeting in today’s world in more serious forms of Covid. ‘

He added: “The average Neanderthal group size is estimated to be around 20-25 individuals, so they are tiny tiny groups spread across a continental scale.”

He described the possibilities of Neanderthals colliding, not to mention Homo sapiens, as “unlikely,” making the sexual encounter that introduced the Covid-related gene into modern humans extraordinary.

Once Neanderthals and Homo sapiens met, it is unlikely that they realized they were different species, therefore happily interbred.

The genetic variation that some people now have, and it came from Neanderthals, is linked to a gene called LZTFL1 and is believed to act on lung cells.

These cells develop more than one important protein on their surface, which the coronavirus is able to attach to and spread through the lungs, causing more damage that can be deadly.

Genetic oddity is more common in people of South Asian origin and could partly explain the high death toll in India during the pandemic.

Professor Davies said: ‘If you stop to think about it, this comes from a single interspecies relationship and a single child.

“And if the dinner date between the human and the Neanderthal had gone wrong, we would have had a lot of fun with Covid and we would have had a hundred thousand fewer deaths.”

However, it has also been suggested that Neanderthal genes help humans by making us smarter, helping us adapt quickly to new diets, and bolstering the immune system to help fight off harmful viruses and bacteria.

GENES, GENOMES AND DNA: A PRIMER

genes: a short section of DNA

chromosomes: a package of genes and other fragments of DNA and proteins

genomes: the complete set of DNA of an organism

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid – a long molecule that contains a unique genetic code

Your genome is the instructions for creating and maintaining yourself. It is written in a chemical code called DNA. All living things – plants, bacteria, viruses and animals – have a genome.

Your genome is made up of 3.2 billion letters of your DNA. It contains around 20,000 genes.

Genes are the instructions for making the proteins that our bodies are made of, from keratin in hair and nails to antibody proteins that fight infection.

Source: Genomics England / Your Genome / Cancer Research