A network of geneticists has embarked on the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative to answer this question. Their goal is to learn why some relatively healthy people are having severe and life-threatening reactions to COVID-19 while others completely avoid its effects.
Are there differences in DNA code that allow the virus to enter one person’s cells leading to rapid deterioration while another person is able to block the virus? By comparing DNA data from pandemic victims to existing DNA profiles of millions of people, scientists and researchers are hoping to identify how our genes impact our susceptibility to COVID-19.
Over 700 individuals in more than 30 countries have joined this effort sharing their data sources. Their intent is to identify which of the 20,000-plus genes in a person’s DNA impact our response to COVID-19. “When you combine all of the sequences from these 150-plus programs,” said project partner Robert Green, a physician and medical geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “you start reaching numbers that can really tell you something.”
So far geneticists have identified over a dozen gene candidates involved in either how the virus infects the body or how our immune system responds to the infection. “Differences in our genetic code for ACE-2,” Green maintained, “may be one of the factors that’s protecting us or making us more vulnerable to the virus entering our cells.” By identifying the underlying genetics, scientists might be able to determine who is a risk, identify effective treatments, and develop vaccines to help us fend off future viruses.
To read more about the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, read What Do Your Genetics Have to Do With Your Chances of Dying From Coronavirus? by David Ewing Duncan.