Just a few months ago in October, I wrote an article on how people who carry the Neanderthal gene may be more prone to experiencing much worse COVID-19 symptoms than those who don’t have the gene. Individuals who have the gene are at a higher risk of being hospitalized or perhaps even having respiratory failure if they catch the coronavirus. (The article can be read here.)
Now, however, a new study that was led by McGill University in Canada has shown that those who carry the gene actually have a much better chance of surviving the virus. In fact, the protein called OAS1 (which helps fight viruses) that has been passed on from Neanderthals to some of today’s humans actually protects them against severe COVID-19 symptoms and if they take medications that boost that protein level, it could even help to treat the virus.
Those who carry higher levels of OAS1 are less susceptible to getting the virus and if they do happen to catch it, they have a lower risk of becoming hospitalized, intubated, or even dying. Brent Richards from the Jewish General Hospital and McGill University in Montreal as well as a co-author of the study further explained this to Reuters, “This protective form of OAS1 is present in sub-Saharan Africans but was lost when the ancestors of modern-day Europeans migrated out of Africa. It was then re-introduced into the European population through mating with Neanderthals.”
To explain this in further detail, the Neanderthal gene produces large amounts of an isoform of the OAS1 protein which is called p46 and it has larger antiviral activity than other forms of the protein. According to the data, someone who has bigger amounts of p46 have less than a third of the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 compared to those with smaller amounts of the isoform. And if they do catch the virus, they have a 9% chance of hospitalization and 5% chance of suffering from severe symptoms.
With that being said, being part Neanderthal appears to be a good thing in regards to fighting coronavirus. But with approximately 88 million cases worldwide and about 2 million deaths (with case numbers and deaths rising every day), COVID-19 is far from over. The study was reported on medRxiv where it can be read in full.