Scientists Find Dangerous Gene That Doubles Risk Of Covid Death

A team of scientists at the University of Oxford have made a major discovery about Covid-19, identifying the gene that puts people at double the risk of respiratory failure from the virus.

And worryingly, some communities are more likely to carry it than others.

Among those with South Asian ancestry, 60% carry the genetic signal – which may go some way to explain the excess deaths from Covid seen in some UK communities, and the impact of the virus in the Indian subcontinent.

Previous research had identified a stretch of DNA that doubled the risk of adults under 65 dying from Covid, but scientists did not know how this genetic signal caused the effect.

For this new study, the Oxford team led by Professors James Davies and Jim Hughes at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, trained an AI algorithm to analyse vast amounts of genetic data in hundreds of cell types from the body to find the genetic signal likely to affect cells in the lung.

Using a new and highly accurate technique, the researchers were able to zoom down on the DNA at the genetic signal to pinpoint the specific gene being controlled by the sequence and therefore responsible for increasing your risk of developing severe Covid-19.

Co-lead Prof Davies worked as an NHS consultant in intensive care medicine during the pandemic and is an associate professor of genomics at Oxford University’s Radcliffe Department of Medicine.

“If you have the high risk genotype and you get very unwell with Covid, there’s a 50% chance that that wouldn’t have happened to you had you had the lower risk genotype,” he explained.

While 60% of South Asians carried this higher-risk version of the gene, 15% of those with European ancestry did too. However, the authors of the study, published in Nature Genetics, stressed they are not suggesting socio-economic factors aren’t also important in determining Covid risk and outcome.

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