Researchers to identify genes that put some at severe corona risk

Genes may soon reveal who would develop severe COVID-19 symptoms, remain asymptomatic or only have a mild coronavirus attack, say researchers.

Data from popular home genetic-testing kits could help scientists shed light on why some people who catch coronavirus have no symptoms while others become very ill, according to the team from the University of Edinburgh in the UK.

Researchers are now asking people who have used DNA testing services to gain ancestry or health insights to join a study that aims to identify key genes involved in the body’s response to the infection.

“Understanding the effect genes have on susceptibility to COVID-19 could aid efforts to tackle the pandemic, and help combat future disease outbreaks,” said the researchers.

More than 30 million people worldwide have used genetic testing services. Researchers are now urging them to share their DNA data to help speed up discoveries that could help fight the virus.

“Some people suffer no ill effects from coronavirus infection, yet others require intensive care. We need to identify the genes causing this susceptibility, so we can understand the biology of the virus and hence develop better drugs to fight it,” said Jim Wilson, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Edinburgh.

By providing gene data, volunteers will help the team avoid the costly, time-consuming task of collecting the hundreds of thousands of DNA samples that would otherwise be needed to map the genes involved.

The team aims to identify genes that influence the risk of developing COVID-19 and those that affect disease severity, by comparing volunteers’ symptoms — or lack of them — with their DNA.

Researchers also aim to analyse the long-term health consequences of infection and self-isolation.

The study is supported by the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, Health Data Research UK and Wellcome Trust.

“To identify the genes that explain why some people get very sick from coronavirus and others don’t, we need the solidarity of a large proportion of people from different countries who can share their DNA testing results with us. In this case, size really matters,” said Albert Tenesa, Professor of Quantitative Genetics at the University of Edinburgh.