Unaffected by Covid? Maybe thank your Neanderthal ancestors

People who survive a bout of Covid-19 with mild symptoms or even no symptoms may be able to thank their Neanderthal ancestors, a new study suggests.

Researchers found a genetic mutation that reduces the risk of severe Covid-19 infection by about 22%. It was found in all the samples they took of Neanderthal DNA, and in about 30% of samples from people of European and Asian origin.

The genetic region involved affects the body’s immune response to RNA viruses such as the coronavirus, as well as West Nile virus and hepatitis C virus, the researchers reported Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…

The finding could help explain why Black patients are so much more likely to suffer severe coronavirus disease. Neanderthals, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago, lived alongside and sometimes interbred with modern humans in Europe and Asia but not in Africa, and people of purely African descent do not carry Neanderthal DNA. Studies estimate that about 2% of DNA in people of European and Asian descent can be traced back to Neanderthals.

RTFA. Details on the research. And it’s certainly interesting to our household. Genetic analysis shows my wife with about 2% Neanderthal DNA. I’m actually at about 3%.

Recreating the caveman diet for ourselves


Heading out for groceries

A team of scientists has begun exploring what can be learned from the diet of cavemen who lived more than two million years ago. Research will focus on how the food eaten by hunter-gatherers could enhance modern day nutrition.

Our ancestors in the palaeolithic period, which covers 2.5 million years ago to 12,000 years ago, are thought to have had a diet based on vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and meat.

Cereals, potatoes, bread and milk did not feature at all. It was only with the dawn of agriculture (around 10,000 years ago) that our diets evolved to include what we think of as staple foods now…

In contrast to the cereal crops we rely on now for the basis of our food, the pre-farming diet contained fewer carbohydrates, less fat and more vegetables. So was it a healthier diet?

“It seems so,” said Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London. “Palaeolithic man may have died earlier than we do now, but he didn’t die of bad nutrition…”

Although we have adapted to a very different diet over thousands of years, Professor Thomas says: “There is a mismatch between the diet we’ve evolved for and the one that we have.”

He cites milk as an example of something humans have adapted to over time.

“Ten thousand years ago, humans had access to milk but couldn’t drink it. We couldn’t digest it. Now we’re 100% adapted to a milk-rich diet.”

I have long been a student of the anthropology of nutrition. One reason anthropology, paleontology, has fascinated me has been learning not only how our ancestors lived; but, what supported that life.

We know they needed more calories because they worked so much harder to provide everything that was required to sustain life and family. Now, we’re learning more about what provided those calories – and the side benefits of those sources.