It may have been the most disastrous one-night stand in the history of humanity. Sixty thousand years ago in the Middle East, two humans, slightly different in looks and stature, met and had sex.
As a direct consequence of that liaison between two of our ancestors — one of them a Neanderthal — many of us have a genetic tweak that doubles our risk of severe Covid — leading, scientists estimated, to as many as a million pandemic deaths. …
The change was discovered by comparing the genomes of about 2000 people who had suffered from severe Covid with the same number who did not, and looking for common differences. One stood out. …
The physical difference, Prof [James Davies, from the University of Oxford] said, came down to the alignment of a few atoms. “It’s position 45,818,159 on chromosome three, and it’s a single change,” he said. “If you’ve got a G (molecule) at that site, it’s low risk. And if you have an A at that site, it’s high risk.” …
Simon Underdown, a biological anthropologist at Oxford Brookes University, is of the view that this interspecies sex should not be considered so odd.
“We now have much more sensitive reconstructions of the Neanderthals and, arguably, they look just like us,” he said.
Dr Underdown believes they would not even have recognised they were different.
So who’s at risk?
It is most common among people of South Asian ethnicity, of whom around 50 per cent have it.
It is less common in Europe, where about 16 per cent of people carry it.
Bangladesh has the highest number of carriers at 63 per cent.
About 2% of genes of Europeans are from Neanderthals, on average.