Investigating the likely association between genetic ancestry and COVID-19 manifestation

The novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2 infection has shown discernible variability across the globe. While infected individuals from some countries have recovered relatively quickly with lower morbidities, those from some other parts of the world appear to remain affected for longer with slower recovery times and demonstrate relatively higher death/recovery ratios, something that is suggestive of a likely population level genetic variation in terms of susceptibility to the coronavirus and COVID-19 manifestation.

In a new study ―the first one evaluating the likely association between genetic ancestry and COVID-19 manifestation―, researchers have evaluated the likely association between an individual’s ancestry and the extent of COVID-19 manifestation (employing Europeans as the case study), by analyzing 10,215 ancient and modern genomes across the globe assessing 597,573 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs).

In this way, authors found significant positive correlation between West European Mesolithic Hunter Gatherers (WHG) ancestral fractions and COVID-19 death/recovery ratio and a marginally significant negative correlation between Neolithic Iranian ancestry fractions and COVID-19 death/recovery ratio. Besides, they also identified 404 immune response related SNPs by comparing publicly available 753 genomes from various European countries against 838 genomes from various Eastern Asian (EHG) countries in a Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS). Prominently, they identified that SNPs associated with Interferon stimulated antiviral response, Interferon-stimulated gene 15 mediated antiviral mechanism and 2′-5′ oligoadenylate synthase mediated antiviral response show large differences in allele frequencies between Europeans and East Asians.

Authors modelled all Europeans as a combination of three source populations namely EHGs, WHGs and Neolithic Iranians in qpAdm analysis. Among 10 European populations employed in this study, GBR (British in England and Scotland) genomes were found to have the highest WHG ancestry proportions (26.1%) and the lowest Neolithic Iranian ancestry fractions (51.5%). Notably, among the European populations evaluated, COVID-19 death to recovery ratio till date, is the highest among the British people with 31.94 death/recovery ratio. In contrast, Russian and Finnish populations which could not be modelled with WHG ancestry so far appear to have less detrimental COVID-19 manifestation with 0.13 and 0.08 death to recovery ratio respectively.

Consistent with this, they found significant positive correlation between WHG ancestry fraction and COVID-19 death/recovery ratio and marginally significant negative correlation between Neolithic Iranian ancestry fractions and COVID-19 death/recovery ratio.

Finally, they did not find any correlation between EHG ancestry fraction and COVID-19 manifestation.

Link to the paper: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.05.20054627

Editorial Disclaimer: information published during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may be updated frequently to reflect the dynamic nature of current understanding.

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