How ill you get with Covid could be written in your genes
8th July 2021

How ill you get with Covid could be written in your genes: Scientists find 13 DNA variations that raise risk of being hospitalised and catching the virus in the first place

  • An global study of Covid patients found nine genes linked with severe illness
  • Three other genes were connected to how likely someone is to get the virus
  • Scientists say the findings can assist with developing new treatments 

Your risk of being hospitalised with Covid or catching it in the first place could be written in your genes, scientists say. 

Researchers have found nine DNA sequences that appear to raise the risk of being admitted to intensive care with coronavirus. 

And they believe they’ve spotted four that may make people more susceptible to getting infected. 

Experts say their discovery ‘partially explains’ why some Covid patients become so unwell while others escape unscathed.

And the team — made up of academics from across the world — believe it could help identify genetic treatments for the virus.

DNA samples from nearly 50,000 Covid patients were analysed for the study, which was published in the journal Nature. 

Their genetic information was compared against the same details of 2million healthy volunteers.

Researchers tested the DNA of people who were severely ill with Covid and compared it with healthy people. They found 13 genes in the Covid patients that they believe made them become more unwell from the virus

Genes are segments of DNA that contain instructions for building the molecules that make the body work. 

Almost all genes are the same in everyone, but about 0.001 per cent of each person’s genes are different.

This variation is why some people look different and have different health conditions. 

Researchers identified 13 genetic markers – also called DNA sequences – that are linked with people catching or developing severe Covid.

Everyone has the genes.

But not everyone carries the specific variation on the gene that makes some people more susceptible to Covid.

Genes linked to an increased likelihood of catching Covid





Genes linked to an increased likelihood of developing severe disease from Covid










Data was taken from a range of studies, many of which relied on information from companies that sell genetic tests such as 23andMe.  

Genetic testing identifies mutations that can cause health problems and is usually used to test for diseases such as cystic fibrosis. 

It works by taking a sample of blood, saliva or body tissue, which is analysed at a laboratory. 

Everyone has the 13 Covid gene regions identified by the team of scientists, which involved teams from Edinburgh University, Harvard and MIT.

The risk only comes from mutations present on the specific DNA sequences, which may cause people to produce more or less of the genes.

The researchers do not yet know whether having more or less of a gene is a risk —and have only been able to pinpoint the regions linked to Covid. 

Commercial tests available, which cost up to £150, do not tell people if they have a mutation on the gene.

Of the 13 genetic markers identified so far, two occur more often among patients of East Asian or South Asian ancestry than those of European ancestry.

Other genetic markers are also linked to lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis and some autoimmune disease.   

In addition to DNA, the researchers found that smoking and having a high BMI were also associated with becoming really unwell.  

Dr Ben Neale, co-director of medical and population genetics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and co-senior author of the study, said while vaccines protect against infection, there is still lots of room for improving Covid treatment, which can be informed by genetic analysis.

He said improving treatments could help shift the pandemic to a disease that is more localised and present at low but consistent levels in the population, like the flu.

He added: ‘The better we get at treating Covid, the better equipped the medical community could be to manage the disease.

‘If we had a mechanism of treating infection and getting someone out of the hospital, that would radically alter our public health response.’

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