Scientists who screened the genetic data of approximately 50,000 COVID-19 patients found that 3 billion base pairs in the human genome could affect a person’s susceptibility to coronavirus infection and the risk of developing serious illness. I found 13 important places in.
Findings published in the journal Nature on Thursday may help researchers design or reuse treatments for COVID-19.
The study “clearly demonstrates that it is possible to expedite human genome studies of infectious diseases and find useful and medically relevant results,” said Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Says Mira Asgari, a geneticist.
One of the hallmarks of coronavirus is that it causes severe illness in some people and is almost asymptomatic in others. It has become clear that many environmental and biological factors play a role. For example, a person’s age and socioeconomic status, history of diabetes and heart disease, and smoking.
“But even if you explain them, there are often differences in the results,” says Asgari.
Our DNA may provide at least a partial explanation.
Scientists know that genetic variation can affect the severity of other infections. In some cases, rare mutations can mean the difference between mild symptoms and serious illness. Other, more common genetic variations can have a more moderate effect on the severity of the disease.
Human genome studies of infectious diseases are fairly rare compared to studies of other diseases with complex genetic grounds. This is primarily because scientists tend to study the microorganisms that cause the disease, rather than infecting the host, said Asgari, who co-authored a commentary published by Nature along with the findings.
Moreover, the effects of genetic variation are usually much smaller when compared to factors such as age and access to medical care. This means that researchers need to consolidate their work with tens of thousands of participants (if not more) whose characteristics are well known in order to detect subtle genetic associations. Means And in the short period of time when the infection is still causing symptoms, they will have to speed it up.
To overcome these challenges, scientists around the world have joined forces in the early stages of the pandemic to create the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative. Their collaboration is more than 3,000 researchers and clinicians combining data from 46 studies, including a total of 49,562 from 19 countries who had COVID-19 and 2 million disease-free who worked as controls. Is now included.
Along with the subject’s genetic information, we collected important indicators that could affect the severity of the disease, such as age and gender.
Their analysis revealed four loci associated with the risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2: their location in the human genome and nine other loci associated with the severity of the disease.
Scientists then searched for genes close to each of these loci and found more than 40 candidates. Many were previously associated with the work of the lungs and immune system.
Among them was a widely studied gene known as TYK2. People with specific versions of this gene are more susceptible to infection by pathogens other than SARS-CoV-2, but they are also less at risk of developing many types of autoimmune diseases. In a new study, researchers found that certain mutations in TYK2 were associated with a 29% to 59% higher risk of severe COVID-19.
Many loci associated with the risk of severe COVID-19 appeared to be associated with genes involved in lung disease. Considering that SARS-CoV-2 attacks the respiratory system, it is not a big surprise.
One of the candidate genes near the locus associated with infection risk was SLC6A20. It interacts with the ACE2 receptor. This is the gene that the coronavirus targets to unlock and invade cells. Another candidate gene is ABO, which helps determine a person’s blood type.
Asgari pointed out that the two loci were discovered only by including people with East Asian ancestry in the study, emphasizing the importance of having a diverse group of people in this type of study.
She said such studies could help scientists better understand how to fight COVID-19 — information should be part of a larger strategy.
“Genetics is an element that helps us understand the biology of infectious diseases and find new drug targets,” says Asgari. “But you really shouldn’t give up on all the other non-genetic factors that have a really big impact.”
Of course, the coronavirus is not static. We are spinning off new variants, such as the Delta variant, which is currently spreading around the world. It is unclear what happens when the genetic diversity of the virus meets the genetic diversity of humans. But scientists say they want to know.
“I think many of us are very excited to see the potential interactions between the host and viral genomes,” said the director of the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine and research. One of the lead authors, geneticist Mark Daly, said. As researchers have identified key elements of the human genome, he added, “I have the opportunity to take the next step.”
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