A group of genes passed down from human cousins who went extinct 50,000 years ago explains why inhabitants of certain regions of the world are far more susceptible to COVID-19 than people living elsewhere, according to new interdisciplinary research.
The Romanian-born professor of mechanical engineering correctly predicted as early as March that the pandemic would spread from east to west. At a time when medical professionals feared that sub-Saharan Africa, with its poverty and underdeveloped healthcare systems, would be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, Bejan pointed out that sub-Saharan Africans’ lack of Neanderthal DNA would leave them largely unscathed.
An outbreak of a COVID-19 variant, known as 501.V2, in South Africa shortly before Christmas may actually confirm Bejan’s observation. Even though South Africa accounts for less than 5 percent of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion, the country has over 35 percent of the continent’s confirmed cases. The higher percentage of people of European or Indian/Asian descent along with those of mixed race in South Africa, about 20 percent of the population, as compared with other sub-Saharan African countries, translates into a higher percentage of people with Neanderthal DNA.
“The conflict between the easy explanation and the pattern in the data (chronology, geography, spreading) means only one thing, people on the globe are not uniformly susceptible to the coronavirus,” Bejan writes. “If not equally susceptible, then why?”
Today’s pandemic originated in China in late 2019 under conditions the government in Beijing has steadfastly refused to disclose. In China, the disease spread in all directions before moving east to Korea and Japan and then south to Thailand, Singapore, Australia, etc.
Following an Ancient MapJet travel enabled today’s coronavirus to travel rapidly, but it did so using an ancient map subconsciously followed by humans during their first encounters with Neanderthals.
- The nonuniform distribution of human susceptibility to the coronavirus corresponds to the nonuniform distribution of Neanderthal DNA.
- The susceptibility to the coronavirus was inherited from the Neanderthals, which is why those with zero [Neanderthal] DNA are less susceptible to the disease.
- If the most susceptible to viruses were the Neanderthals, then it stands to reason that the Neanderthals declined to extinction because of virus-induced diseases, not because Darwinian competition with allegedly superior humans out of Africa.
People with COVID-19 who inherited this gene cluster are also more likely to need artificial breathing assistance, co-author Hugo Zeberg said in a news release. In South Asia, roughly 30% of people have them, compared with approximately one in six Europeans. The troublesome gene cluster is almost totally absent in Africa and East Asia. Summarizing their findings, the authors conclude, “with respect to the current pandemic, it is clear that the gene flow from Neanderthals has tragic consequences.”
In confronting a pandemic, the first thought is to look at the world of medicine to find a cure. And, sure enough, pharmaceutical giants Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna produced vaccines within an astounding nine months that are already being distributed. But exploring the pandemic’s spread and human susceptibility leads the inquiring mind elsewhere—to the fields of anthropology, genetics, and even physics.
Bejan is the father of constructal thermodynamics, a theory that holds that “for a flow system to persist in time it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to its currents.” By applying the theory to the spread, or flow, first of homo sapiens and then of COVID-19—and showing that the two are interrelated—he has deepened our understanding of the challenge confronting us. After all, this will not be our last pandemic.