They used to live in caves, hunt their food and were generally tougher than modern-day humans.
But a new study finds if you have Neanderthal genes, you are twice as likely to develop a life-threatening form of Covid.
DNA from the species that went extinct around 40,000 years ago is associated with autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer.
A team of Italian researchers found people with three Neanderthal gene variations were twice as likely to have severe pneumonia and three times as likely to be hospitalized with a ventilator after contracting the virus.
While the findings were part of an experiment, people can investigate how much Neanderthal DNA they have using commercial ancestry tests.
People who have developed life-threatening forms of Covid may have inherited genes from their Neanderthal ancestors, a new study has suggested. Pictured is a statue made to look like a Neanderthal
Neanderthals were a close human ancestor who mysteriously died around 40,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving across to Europe around 300,000 years ago.
They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago, and mated, which led to some genes appearing in humans today.
The new study, published in the journal iScience, was led by researchers with the nonprofit Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research.
The team analyzed a sample of nearly 1,200 people in the Bergamo province, home to the pandemic’s epicenter in early 2020.
Scientists found that 33 percent of people in Bergamo with the Neanderthal haplotype, a set of DNA variants along a single chromosome that tend to be inherited together, developed severe cases of Covid.
In March 2020 alone, 670 people died in this city of 120,000 inhabitants and almost 6,000 in the province of the same name — five or six times the normal toll for that time of year
More than 75 percent of the participants were born in the Bergamo province, chosen as the sample region due to the severe cases and deaths associated with Covid.
In March 2020 alone, 670 people died in this city of 120,000 inhabitants and almost 6,000 in the province of the same name — five or six times the normal toll for that time of year.
The team conducted an ORIGN test during the experiment, which included breaking down each subject’s ancestry.
The three variants were identified on chromosome 3, known as the 3p21.31 locus.
‘The lead variant at this locus lies in an intron of LZTFL1 and is in linkage with markers spanning a cluster of inflammatory genes, including CCR9, CXCR6, and XCR1,’ reads the study.
A 2020 study found similar results, which stated having Neanderthal genes could make you more at risk from severe Covid.
In a study of 3,199 hospital patients with coronavirus in Italy and Spain, researchers found the genetic signature was linked to a more severe illness.
Lead author Professor Hugo Zeberg, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said: ‘The increase in risk is 60 to 70 percent if you carry one copy of the Neanderthal variant and three times the risk if you have two copies – one from your father and one from your mother.
‘Later studies estimate the risk increase to be even higher, with twice the risk if you have one copy and up to a five-fold increase if you have two copies.’
The gene variant was first found in the remains of a Neanderthal in Croatia some 50,000 years ago and continues to be found in millions of modern-day humans.
Not everyone has this variant – it is most common among people of South Asian ethnicity, of whom around 50 percent have it.
This difference may contribute to the differences in severity of Covid-19 that have been observed between different populations.
It is less common in Europe, where about 16 percent of people carry it.
Bangladesh has the highest number of carriers at 63 percent.