An impaired immune system, age, obesity and underlying medical issues are the well-known risk factors for becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

Genetics, too, play a role, helping to explain why some young and otherwise healthy individuals will have a severe reaction and most others don’t. Variants on one region of the human chromosome are behind the increased risk.

But why do some people have the variant and others don’t? Blame the Neanderthals of southern Europe.

Related genetic variants were previously linked to Neanderthals, so researchers sought to determine if the COVID variant did, too. Collaborating geneticists in Japan, Germany and Sweden traced the variant back 60,000 years to a time when modern day humans and Neanderthals co-existed and interbred.

In a paper published online by Nature, they reported that DNA recovered from a Neanderthal from southern Europe was found to have the variant. Two Neanderthals from Siberia and a Denisovan, another human species that ranged across Asia, did not.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic,” said Svante Pääbo, who leads the Human Evolutionary Genomics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University. Those carrying the variant have up to three times the risk of requiring mechanical ventilation.

Hugo Zeberg, first author of the paper and a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Karolinska Institutet said, “Obviously, factors such as your age and other diseases you may have also affect how severely you are affected by the virus. But among genetic factors, this is the strongest one.”

Why this gene region is associated with a higher risk of a severe COVID reaction isn’t known. “This is something that we and others are now investigating as quickly as possible,” said Pääbo, in an account published on SciTechDaily.com.

Photo by Frank Eiffert on Unsplash


Jun 6, 2023

The New ‘Normal’ Is Not 98.6

December 22nd, 2020

When mom took your temperature and decided that at 98.6 F you were fine, she might very well have been wrong.

She was relying on a 150 year old standard that a growing number of studies are finding is too high by about a degree.

It’s not that German physician Carl Wunderlich was wrong. It’s that the average body temperature has declined since he first published the figure in 1868.

“Our temperature’s not what people think it is,” said Dr. Julie Parsonnet, a professor of medicine and health research at Stanford Medical School. “What everybody grew up learning, which is that our normal temperature is 98.6, is wrong.”

She and a group of her colleagues earlier this year published an analysis of body temperature trends in the US since the Civil War. It confirm what other studies found — our body temperature has been going down for decades. They determined the body temperature of men born in the early to mid-1990s is on average 1.06 F lower than that of men born in the early 1800s and that of women of the same time periods is on average 0.58 F lower.

The researcers offered a number of possible reasons for the decline ranging from better hygiene and healthcare to lower rates of inflammation and improved diets. Even modern heating and air conditioning were mentioned as contributing factors.

Now, a study of an indigenous population of forager-horticulturists in the Bolivian Amazon has come up with similar findings.

Published in Science Advances, a multinational team of physicians, anthropologists and local researchers found that over 16 years of study the average body temperature among the Tsimane declined by .09 F a year to a current average of 97.7 F.

“In less than two decades we’re seeing about the same level of decline as that observed in the U.S. over approximately two centuries,” said lead researcher Michael Gurven, UC Santa Barbara professor of anthropology and chair of the campus’s Integrative Anthropological Sciences Unit.

Though the Bolivian Amazon is thousands of miles and a lifestyle away from the US, the researchers suspect some of the same factors may be responsible for the declining body temperature. Health care has improved and infection and inflammation have been reduced.

Said Gurven, “It’s likely a combination of factors — all pointing to improved conditions.”

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash


Jun 6, 2023

Wearables That Print On Your Body

Biomedical sensors long ago moved out of the hospital and into an assortment of recreational exercise devices monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and other vital signs.

Body sensor image - blog.jpg

Whether medical or recreational activity trackers, these sensors require some sort of carrier — think wristbands or EKG electrode patches — which limits their effectiveness and can make them uncomfortable when worn for extended periods. They can also be hard to place and often have poor signal quality.

Now, right out of science fiction, engineers at Penn State, China’s Harbin Institute of Technology and other Chinese institutions have come up with a way to print the sensors and their electronics directly on human skin.

Up to now, the only way to bond nanoparticles together to create flexible electronics was through a process requiring temperatures hotter than the hottest home oven. The new process uses common materials that allow the particles to bond at room temperature.

The resulting sensor is flexible, smooth and durable enough to remain on the skin until peeled off with hot water. The devices can then be recycled and reused.

Lead researcher, Penn State Engineering Professor Huanyu Cheng, explained that the bonding process uses polyvinyl alcohol paste — the main ingredient in peelable face masks — and calcium carbonate — the key ingredient of eggshells.

The sensors, he said, “Are capable of precisely and continuously capturing temperature, humidity, blood oxygen levels and heart performance signals.”