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Are you more susceptible to COVID-19 than the rest? : the reason lies in our Genome

  • HEALTH
  • Adrija Ray Chaudhury | Team PresentMirror | Updated: July 1, 2020, 1:54 p.m.




A man who was perhaps supposed to run a marathon, a few months back, finds himself in an intubated and ventilated unit today. What may be the reason that an otherwise healthy individual finds himself grappled with the pandemic? If it is not something external, the reason is embedded in the genetic configuration of our body.


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In an interview, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe distinctly stated that elders are at greater risk from COVID-19 due to many underlying causes. Yet reports suggest that 1-5 of the most severe COVID-19 cases have been detected in individuals, who are less than 50 years old.

Sketching of the human genome to detect the host genetic factors responsible for the vast difference in individuals affected with the same infection, dates back to as early as the 1980s. Dr. Jean-Laurent Casanova, head of the St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, in a webinar, said that clinical manifestations of an infection can vary from silent infections, asymptomatic individuals to life-threatening and lethal cases on the basis of the genetic organization of a body. He also added that COVID-19 is not the first infection to have its roots in the human genome. It has been almost three decades since doctors discovered a genetic disorder called primary immunodeficiency where some babies are born without the proper defense mechanism or lack a subset of leukocytes and it eventually makes them more vulnerable to multiple recurrent infectious diseases.

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Image Credits: American Academy of Family Physicians(AAFP)

To add more names, there are Mendelian infections and Monogenic lesions. Both of these are rare genetic disorders yet very different in expression. The former runs in the family and passes from parents to children just like Mendelian traits. Monogenic disorders, on the other hand, are sporadic infections and result due to the absence of a single gene. They hardly follow a regular pattern and react when exposed to a single pathogen.

The relation between the human genome and COVID-19:

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Image Credits: R&D Systems, USA

Medical practitioners and health workers have frequently witnessed more than 95% of the severe COVID-19 infections in aged people. They usually have comorbidities that turn fatal or the infection exacerbates their weak immunity. Nevertheless, geneticists are trying to figure out the plausible cause behind otherwise healthy individuals getting infected by the virus. There are more than 30 sequencing hubs all around the world that analyze the data of the patients in their region. Simultaneously, they work together to identify the common gene structure, if any, in these patients.

Until now, geneticists have been able to draft a few genetic configurations, more liable to get infected. Researches from China and New York show that people with blood group A are more susceptible to the disease while the O blood group is a bit on the safer side. This can be due to the absence of a gene on Chromosome 3 that encodes a type 1 protein called ACE-2. This protein is used by SARS-CoV-2 for cellular entry. In the article," COVID-19 vulnerability: the potential impact of genetic susceptibility and airborne transmission" (Krystal J. Godri Pollitt et al.,2020), the researchers have described how the absence of the gene TMPRSS2 on chromosome 21 influences the severity of influenza type infections. National Technology for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has also suggested that the HLA-B*4601 allele induced gene products may expose young folks to serious infection.

However, scientists from all around the world have agreed that their understanding of genetic factors that affect the vulnerability to COVID-19 is still in its infancy. They still have a long way to go before they can arrive at a sound conclusion.

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