Researchers worldwide have worked tirelessly to uncover how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with the body and why some people with COVID-19 remain virtually unaffected while others have severe, life threatening symptoms.

Gene variant linked to severe COVID-19

A September 2020 study that appears in the journal Nature presented more evidence that genes may play a role in the severity of COVID-19.

In the research, the scientists found a Neanderthal gene variant on chromosome 3 that significantly increased the risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms. They found having this variant meant there was a 60% increased likelihood of being hospitalized.

Scientists have found the variant in 16% of people from Europe and 50% of people from South Asia. Neanderthal variants are rare in Africa.

In particular, the researchers found this variant in 63% of people from Bangladesh, who have double the risk of dyingfrom COVID-19, compared with white people in the United Kingdom.

The research was led by Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo, scientists at Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Neanderthal gene offers protection

The latest study from the same team of scientists found another Neanderthal gene with the opposite effect. Their findings appear in the journal PNAS.

Using data from the Genetics of Mortality in Critical Care consortium, the team found a genome type on the OAS1 region of chromosome 12 that appears to protect against severe COVID-19.

The researchers say the presence of each copy of OAS1 reduces the need for intensive care by around 22%.

Genes located in this region encode proteins that activate enzymes critical in the body’s immune response to RNA viruses. These enzymes help break down viral genomes.

The study also indicates that this Neanderthal-inherited gene’s prevalence has increased since the last Ice Age. Scientists believe it is present in approximately half of all people outside Africa.

Medical reference: Medical News Today