Science has spoken: the COVID-19 pandemic only happened because of Neanderthals. The extinct humans have been blamed by virtually all modern diseases and illnesses since scientists first proved that the Homo sapiens, freshly arriving from Africa to Middle East and Europe, have been mating with Neanderthals who settled there long before. As the result, all people of non-African origin of today carry genetic traces of such sexual encounters and have Neanderthals among their ancestors.
So now it is the susceptibility to the coronavirus which Neanderthals are being blamed with. All this starts looking as a version of the Biblical expulsion from paradise tale, where Adam and Eve, originally free from all diseases, left the African paradise to fall prey to sexual depravity of disease-ridden and disease-gene carrying Neanderthals. It is also a morality tale, where the god-fearing, upstanding H. sapiens men were led astray into sin by some wanton bare-breasted Neanderthal Jezebels flashing at them from inside the bushes, or maybe these H. sapiens men went hunting mammoth and let their chaste and obedient H. sapiens wives alone at the hearth, when the rough-and-ready Neanderthal brutes arrived to have their depraved ways with the defenceless and sexually somewhat neglected sapiens ladies.
I am sorry, my fantasy is going into a non-peer-reviewable direction. In any case, whoever seduced whom, the diseases of the modern humans are the just punishment for the infidelity of our ancestors, scientists have found. Including COVID-19, a Nature-published discovery which made news worldwide.
The senior author of that study is the biggest star in anthropology and paleogenetics, Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. It was his lab which first sequenced the Neanderthal genome, and everything Pääbo discovers since is scientific gospel.
Together with Smut Clyde, I wrote about the scurrility of Neanderthal research before. Among other things, I mentioned in that 2018 article that Pääbo announced the same year in The Guardian to use the stem cells and CRISPR/CAS gene editing technology to simulate Neanderthal brains in a dish, in form of so-called mini-brains (tiny cultured organoids of neural cells). His Leipzig colleague Gray Camp announced there to “regrow your Neanderthal brain” and to “resurrect the functionality of those neanderthal genes”. The amazing technology was published this summer, as Dannemann et al Stem Cell Reports 2020, coauthored by Pääbo. In a press release Camp was quoted that his minibrains can be used to study Neanderthalian “intestinal tract and digestion, cognition and neural function as well as the immune response to pathogens“. That, dear reader, is modern-day anthropology, and if you think it’s embarrassing, it was not really much better before (cf various theories for Neanderthal extinction), only less computational.
As the Neanderthal minibrains of Leipzig matured, COVID-19 arrived and the Leipzig MPI director Pääbo decided that it was upon him to save the world.
So here is the paper (its June 2020 preprint here):
Hugo Zeberg, Svante Pääbo The major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neanderthals Nature (2020) doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2818-3
The other author of that Nature study is Hugo Zeberg from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. He and Pääbo compared “the DNA of very sick Covid-19 patients with that from Neanderthals and their mysterious sister group, the Denisovans”, as The Guardian explains. Lo and behold: “I almost fell off my chair because the segment of DNA was exactly the same as in the Neanderthal genome”, Hugo Zeberg told the British newspaper.
Zeberg and Pääbo further explain in the official press release provided by the Max Planck Society:
“It turns out that this gene variant was inherited by modern humans from the Neandertals when they interbred some 60,000 years ago,” says Hugo Zeberg. “Today, the people who inherited this gene variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if they are infected by the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2.” […]
“It is striking that the genetic heritage from the Neandertals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic. Why this is must now be investigated as quickly as possible,” says Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.”
“More research” is an academic code word for “Give me grant money now”, and Pääbo will sure get plenty, probably to study next the Denisovan genes in COVID-19 context. The press release also explains why India faces such a COVID-19 disaster:
“The study also reveals considerable differences in how common this genetic risk variant is in different parts of the world. It is particularly common among people in South Asia where about half of the population carry the Neandertal risk variant. In Europe, one in six people carry the risk variant, while in Africa and East Asia it is almost non-existent.”
You see, according to science the Indian COVID-19 disaster has nothing to do with an incompetent Hindu-fascist leadership which tries to fight the pandemic with chloroquine, homeopathy, Ayurveda, cow urine and outright racism, but a lot with those Neanderthal genes in South Asians.
Now, Svante Pääbo is GOD, certainly of Neanderthal genetics, and if God himself tells you in Nature that non-Africans suffer from COVID-19 so badly because of their Neanderthal genes, it is the Gospel and you better start singing hymns of praise. I wish Professor Pääbo would explain how come African-Americans die so much from COVID-19, maybe it’s the lack of Vitamin D or something.
The next study, as it happens by exactly same people, utterly incidentally and unintentionally leads the way to even more race theories.
Hugo Zeberg, Michael Dannemann, Kristoffer Sahlholm, Kristin Tsuo, Tomislav Maricic, Victor Wiebe, Wulf Hevers, Hugh P.C. Robinson, Janet Kelso, Svante Pääbo A Neanderthal Sodium Channel Increases Pain Sensitivity in Present-Day Humans Current Biology (2020) doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.045
Zeberg and Pääbo discovered a gene variant which they say made Neanderthals more pain-sensitive than modern humans who just arrived from Africa. The Max Planck Society issued a press release:
“The biggest factor for how much pain people report is their age. But carrying the Neandertal variant of the ion channel makes you experience more pain similar to if you were eight years older”, says lead author Hugo Zeberg, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Karolinska Institutet. “The Neandertal variant of the ion channel carries three amino acid differences to the common, ‘modern’ variant”, explains Zeberg. “While single amino acid substitutions do not affect the function of the ion channel, the full Neandertal variant carrying three amino acid substitutions leads to heightened pain sensitivity in present-day people.”
On a molecular level, the Neandertal ion channel is more easily activated which may explain why people who inherited it have a lowered pain threshold. “Whether Neandertals experienced more pain is difficult to say because pain is also modulated both in the spinal cord and in the brain”, says Pääbo. “But this work shows that their threshold for initiating pain impulses was lower than in most present-day humans.”
Again, a reminder that Africans carry hardly any Neanderthal genes, thus according to the research by Zeberg and Pääbo, they should have a higher pain threshold than Europeans with our gentle Neanderthal pain receptors. As it happens, much of US medicine is based on this exact presumption already, that Black patients feel less pain than whites and should receive less or no pain medication or in fact, medical attention. Luckily, some American doctors and researchers started to oppose this medical racism and its cruel scientism. The studies Sabin & Greenwald 2012 , Meghani et al 2012 and especially Hoffman et al 2016 addressed the problem of racist pain medication, where whites get treated and Blacks get dismissed as whiny, and gathered such quotes from today’s medical students and residents:
“Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s.” “Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s.” “Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than white people’s.”
So we now know from the highest scientific authority of Nature that non-Africans feel more pain and are more susceptible to COVID-19. But it gets even wilder. Pääbo previously collaborated on the following Nature paper from the Harvard lab of the geneticist David Reich (another very influential figure in human paleo- and ethnogenetics, whose research findings, at least according to Guardian, have never been contradicted):
Sriram Sankararaman, Swapan Mallick, Michael Dannemann, Kay Prüfer, Janet Kelso, Svante Pääbo, Nick Patterson, and David Reich The landscape of Neandertal ancestry in present-day humans Nature (2014) doi: 10.1038/nature12961
As a Harvard press release announced:
“Remnants of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans are associated with genes affecting type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, lupus, biliary cirrhosis, and smoking behavior.”
Not bad, even smoking. One of that Nature paper’s coauthors was Janet Kelso and her then-postdoc Michael Dannemann (they also co-authored Pääbo’s pain sensitivity paper and co-developed the Neanderthal minibrain technology mentioned above). Kelso is a computation biologist with a lab at the Max Planck Institute which Pääbo is director of, Dannemann is now senior research fellow at the University of Tartu in Estonia, together they did their own Neanderthal research.
Kelso’s and Dannemann’s work at MPI Leipzig was part of the Neanderthal-related groundbreaking discoveries celebrated by The Scientist:
“In 2016, Kelso, Dannemann, and a colleague found that pathogen response and susceptibility to develop allergies were associated with Neanderthal sequences that affect TLR production.8 […] In their 2017 analysis, for example, Kelso and Dannemann found that Neanderthal variants were associated with chronotype—whether people identify as early birds or night owls—as well as links with susceptibility to feelings of loneliness or isolation and low enthusiasm or interest.”
These were the papers:
Michael Dannemann, Aida M. Andrés, Janet Kelso Introgression of Neandertal- and Denisovan-like Haplotypes Contributes to Adaptive Variation in Human Toll-like Receptors The American Journal of Human Genetics (2016) DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2015.11.015
It was celebrated in The Guardian:
“Passionate encounters between ancient humans and their burly cousins, the Neanderthals, may have left modern people more prone to sneezes, itches and other allergies, researchers say.
The curious legacy comes from three genes that crossed into modern humans after their distant ancestors had sex with Neanderthals, or their close relatives the Denisovans, more than 40,000 years ago.”
Science not to be sneezed at. The Max Planck Society concurred in the press release:
“Although this greater sensitivity might protect against infection, it might also increase the susceptibility of modern-day people to allergies“
Does this mean African-Americans are less likely to develop allergies and should stop complaining when living in toxic and environmentally polluted areas? Probably. This was the chronotype paper:
Michael Dannemann, Janet Kelso The Contribution of Neanderthals to Phenotypic Variation in Modern Humans The American Journal of Human Genetics (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.09.010
“Using baseline phenotypes collected for 112,000 individuals by the UK Biobank, we […] show that Neanderthal DNA affects skin tone and hair color, height, sleeping patterns, mood, and smoking status in present-day Europeans.“
The authors elaborated in the discussion:
“However, there are four phenotypes, all behavioral, to which Neanderthal alleles contribute more phenotypic variation than non-archaic alleles: chronotype, loneliness or isolation, frequency of unenthusiasm or disinterest in the last 2 weeks, and smoking status. Of these, the significant association between a Neanderthal variant in ASB1 and preference for evening activity also shows a correlation between the Neanderthal allele frequency and latitude, suggesting a link to differences in sunlight exposure for this phenotype. Additionally, the phenotype of increased frequencies of unenthusiasm or disinterest in the last 2 weeks was significantly associated with an archaic haplotype…“
Basically, as a White European, if you are the kind of person who likes to spend your nights at a pub with a pint and a ciggie, while feeling rather wasted and unable to work the next day: Blame those Neanderthal genes. Science has spoken.
With Kelso, Gray, Dannemann and of course Pääbo himself there seems to be a weird cult of Neanderthalism going on at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, maybe it is the consequence of a Max Planck Institute director having too much power. But as long as it delivers Nature papers, everyone is happy.
But wait, since we started talking about antisociality of Neanderthals. Where do you think autism and schizophrenia come from? Of course from Neanderthals, there was this paper from NIH:
Michael D. Gregory, J. Shane Kippenhan, Daniel P. Eisenberg, Philip D. Kohn, Dwight Dickinson, Venkata S. Mattay, Qiang Chen, Daniel R. Weinberger, Ziad S. Saad, Karen F. Berman Neanderthal-Derived Genetic Variation Shapes Modern Human Cranium and Brain Scientific Reports (2017) doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-06587-0
A press release from NIH National Institute of Mental Health explains that Neanderthals carried a certain mutated gene which made them autistic, and quotes the senior author:
“It’s been proposed that Neanderthals depended on visual-spatial abilities and toolmaking, for survival, more so than on the social affiliation and group activities that typify the success of modern humans – and that Neanderthal brains evolved to preferentially support these visuospatial functions,” Berman explained. “Now we have direct neuroimaging evidence that such trade-offs may still be operative in our brains.“
Karin Berman‘s middle name is Faith, maybe this is her problem.
And since we arrived at autism: of course there is also the neuroscientist Alysson Muotri of UC San Diego, who might be actually a troll clown project run by his mentor Fred “Rusty” Cage in order to expose the academia, scholarly publishing and scientific journalism as a bunch of gullible morons who will publish and celebrate even the most outrageous idiocy if it sounds entertaining enough. I wrote about Muotri in my previous Neanderthal article, what with his shrivelled Neanderthal minibrains in a dish (or, as announced, inside crab-like robots), all of which Muotri says proves Neanderthals were autistic and passed the autism genes onto modern humans. Otherwise, Muotri claims in top journals (Trujillo et al Cell Stem Cell 2019) to have detected neuronal activities of a human newborn in his microscopic neuronal cell clumps (I am talking of Muotri’s minibrains in a dish, not his own brain), which he also plans to send into space. Science and health journalists lap it all up at Muotri’s feet, so Gage’s prank works.
We shall remain in California and meet professor John Capra at UC San Francisco, who used to work at the Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The computational geneticist Capra and his colleagues studied DNA of 28,000 patients and checked it for the diseased Neanderthal genes. They found plenty:
Corinne N Simonti, Benjamin Vernot, Lisa Bastarache, Erwin Bottinger, David S Carrell, R. L. Chisholm, David R Crosslin, Scott J Hebbring, Gail P Jarvik, Iftikhar J Kullo, Rongling Li, Jyotishman Pathak, Marylyn D Ritchie, D. M. Roden, Shefali S Verma, Gerard Tromp, Jeffrey D Prato, William S Bush, Joshua M Akey, Joshua C Denny, John A Capra The phenotypic legacy of admixture between modern humans and Neandertals Science (2016) doi: 10.1126/science.aad2149
Science has spoken, diseases of all possible organs arrived on Neanderthal genes. If only our sapiens ancestors would have controlled their primal urges. The Vanderbilt press release explained the paper for lay people: we learn that “Neanderthal DNA variants influence skin biology in modern humans” and cause the skin condition keratosis, and also that Capra and his Vanderbilt colleagues
“…found that a specific bit of Neanderthal DNA significantly increases risk for nicotine addiction. They also found a number of variants that influence the risk for depression: some positively and some negatively. In fact, a surprisingly number of snippets of Neanderthal DNA were associated with psychiatric and neurological effects, the study found.“
The authors also found that Neanderthals are responsible for “stroke, pulmonary embolism and pregnancy complications” in us proper humans because that Neanderthal gene variant increases blood coagulation (which in a way is funny because Zeberg, Kelso and Pääbo recently claimed that Neanderthal genes actually benefit modern women’s fertility and prevent miscarriages and bleeding during pregnancy). In the same 2016 Science paper, Capra and colleagues even linked obesity to the genetic Neanderthal heritage:
“Of the 12 nominally significant associations, 8 were replicated in the independent E2 data set, including actinic keratosis (P = 0.0059), mood disorders (P = 0.018), depression (P = 0.020), obesity (P = 0.030), and seborrheic keratosis (P = 0.045) at P < 0.1“
Fat moody bastards with dandruff, those Neanderthals. In this regard, it is also funny that that Capra’s obesity findings is what the Leipzig MPI people say they failed to reproduce. But in any case, by now every health problem modern humans experience seems to have have been blamed on Neanderthals, in peer reviewed research.
Of course those Neanderthals were also chock-full of sexually transmitted diseases. A variant of the Human papilloma virus (HPV) was sexually transmitted from Neanderthals to proper humans, as the following study revealed.
Ville N. Pimenoff, Cristina Mendes De Oliveira, Ignacio G. Bravo Transmission between Archaic and Modern Human Ancestors during the Evolution of the Oncogenic Human Papillomavirus 16 Molecular biology and evolution (2017) doi: 10.1093/molbev/msw214
In itself, the study is relatively down to earth, but the article had solid PR and made international news (as everything related to sexual intercourse), while the last author Ignacio Bravo, virologist at CNRS institute in Montpellier, shared his thoughts with the journalists:
“Our work suggests that some aggressive oncogenic viruses were transmitted by sexual contact from archaic to modern humans.”
“Bravo and his colleagues believe a higher percentage of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in a person’s genome my influence their chances of developing cancer from HPV, an idea that they hope to soon put to the test.“
And now, it is the coronavirus. Can’t argue with Nature.
Because COVID-19 pandemic and Neanderthals are such a fun combination, Pääbo and Zeberg strike again. Now they claim Neanderthal genes prevent severe COVID-19, the opposite of their earlier paper in Nature. The recent joke was published on PNAS contributed track by Pääbo, meaning: without proper peer review.
Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo A genomic region associated with protection against severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals PNAS (2021) doi: 10.1073/pnas.2026309118
“It is striking that this Neandertal gene variant has become so common in many parts of the world. This suggests that it has been favourable in the past […] It is also striking that two genetic variants inherited from Neandertals influence COVID-19 outcomes in opposite directions. Their immune system obviously influences us in both positive and negative ways today.”
Thing is, if Pääbo and Zeberg combined these opposite findings into one paper, it would have been unpublishable in an elite journal for lack of significance and physiological relevance.
Oh, and I also wrote about Alysson Muotri now, his Neanderthal minibrains made it into Science.
PS: Neanderthals are generally seen as a different, primitive or even degenerate species of hominids, but they and the modern Homo sapiens would be the same species if only we applied same rules of taxonomy to human evolution as we apply to the non-human-animals. For same reason, all humans, chimps and bonobos would be in the same taxonomical family Homo (or Pan), like horses and donkey are (Equus sp.).
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