image source here All about DNA – Curious (science.org.au)
COVID-19 is a virus that has caused a worldwide pandemic and is responsible for many deaths. It is safe to say that everyone has been affected by this virus, whether they had gotten infected themselves, known a loved one who was infected, or the mere fact that the lockdown had affected their lives.
Data has shown that anyone can get COVID. However, it has been noticed that some individuals may be more susceptible to contracting the virus and developing severe COVID pneumonia: men, the elderly, and those who are immuno-compromised- have a weak immune system.
The question then arises, that does genetics play any role in the risk of contracting severe case of COVID? Two studies have tapped into this, mainly overlooked question.
First, let’s go back to the basics.
Genes are hereditary units that encode for proteins or RNA. These genes can get mutated or ‘changed.’
Proteins called auto-antibodies incorrectly target the body’s organs/ tissues, and this can be quite harmful.
Interferons (IFN) are signalling molecules that are released when the body encounters many viruses. The released interferons alert cells to enhance their defenses. It is clear then, that these interferons are essential for a healthy body.
One study by O Zhang et.al., examined patients whose gene for a certain IFN has been found to be mutated. Another scientist; Bastard et.al., noticed that 10% of patients with severe COVID symptoms had certain autoantibody that is not found in asymptomatic healthy patients and those who do not have extreme forms of COVID infection. Research results show that the faulty type 1 IFN affected serious COVID -19 pneumonia, in at least 2.6% of women and 12.5% of men.
These studies explain that genetics does, indeed, play a role in the development of COVID-19. Additionally, it provides a foundation for determining whether an individual may be susceptible to severe COVID-19 and this research can assist in the production of preventative measures. However, more research would need to be carried to understand the extent of the role genetics has with the risk of severe COVID-19.
By: Nimla Asgher (Intern at Science WeeklyFix)