Research roundup: Could our ancestry contribute to COVID-19 outcomes?

February 8, 2021

As COVID-19 spread across the world, doctors and researchers alike noted a variety of symptoms associated with sick patients. Experts are beginning to consider that a portion of these varying symptoms, as well as the likelihood of contracting the disease and morbidity rates, could be attributed to differences between individuals’ biologically assigned sex and race. A research team led by Manci Li, PhD candidate, recently published a perspective review looking at host response to coronavirus infection based on the host’s genome. To demonstrate the relationship, the researchers compiled existing data on four chromosomal regions known to either influence disease outcomes, or be associated with the immune response recognized clinically to influence the outcome of COVID-19. Known as Alu retrotransposons, these “jumping genes” can copy and paste themselves into the genome and can regulate gene expression. Alu elements are particularly helpful in explaining human evolution and ancestry, as the variability of these bits of DNA are tied to the variation of human populations. Scientists are starting to see and understand the role they play in regulating the way genes are expressed. In this study, researchers reviewed select Alu elements having the potential to influence a patient’s physical response to coronavirus infection, hypothesizing that this variability within the genome could contribute to differing symptoms associated with COVID-19 patients.

Read more in the paper published January 4, 2021, in Human Genomics.

Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash