"Today, the people who inherited this gene variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 infects them", he added.
Scientists say genes that some people have inherited from their Neanderthal ancestors may increase their likelihood of suffering severe forms of Covid-19. The haplotype is found in about 16% of the population in Europe and half the population in South Asia, while in Africa and East Asia it is nonexistent.
They are nearly non-existent in Africa and East Asia.
There are many reasons why some people with Covid-19 wind up in intensive care and other have only light symptoms, or none at all.
The genes are one of several risk factors for Covid-19, including age, sex and pre-existing conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart problems.
"It is alarming that a genetic heritage from the Neanderthals can have such tragic consequences in the current pandemic", Paabo said, stressing that more research should be done immediately.
But genetic factors can also play a role, as the new findings makes clear. "Why this is must now be investigated as quickly as possible", Svante Pääbo, study author and director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Tellingly, two Neanderthals found in southern Siberia, along with a specimen from another early human species that also wandered Eurasia, the Denisovans, did not carry the telltale snippet.
Now, in a new study, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have discovered that this gene cluster is remarkably similar to DNA sequences found in the genome of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal discovered in Croatia, indicating the gene variant was most likely passed on to humans through prehistoric interbreeding with Neanderthals.
They cited studies from the United Kingdom showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have about two times higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than the general population.
They also cited studies from the United Kingdom showing that people of Bangladeshi descent have roughly double the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with the general population.
The potentially unsafe string of Neanderthal DNA is not evenly distributed today across the globe, the study showed. Studies estimate that about 2% of DNA in people of European and Asian descent can be traced back to Neanderthals.