COVID-19: Can Genetic Studies of Previous Coronaviruses Help Us Fight COVID-19?March 23, 2020
We have experienced severe coronavirus infections before: SARS and MERS were both caused by coronaviruses. Luckily, we experienced these outbreaks during a time when genetics is a flourishing scientific industry. We use genetics for everything from cancer treatments and research to determining paternity. We also use genetics to study the spread of diseases. Fairly extensive studies were made on both SARS and MERS, both on the viruses themselves and on some of the patients who suffered through those illnesses. Genetics allows us to see just how much genetic material is shared between those outbreak viruses and SARS-CoVID-2, the virus that causes the illness known as COVID-19. It also allows us to do large scale determinations, including seeing how patients are similar and different in relation to how severe they experience the illness. To simplify: it allows researchers to find genes that make us more resilient or susceptible to severe coronavirus illnesses.
This blog post from Nebula Genomics can give you a good primer on virus genetics and our understanding of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The Nebula Genomics Research Library has a few very interesting articles comparing the genetics and genomics of SARS-CoVID (responsible for the SARS outbreak) and SARS-CoVID-2 (responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic), as well as comparisons between the patients treated during both outbreaks. If you are a technical-minded individual, I highly recommend you read through all of the linked scientific articles to learn more about this virus and the illness it causes.
The good news is that, YES, the study of genetics and genomics ARE helping us to fight COVID-19! There are several genes identified that control certain aspects of how our bodies handle infection with coronaviruses. These genes can help us to fight infection more effectively, or make us more susceptible to infection for other genes. While the research is still ongoing, there are a lot of promising datasets that we are learning a lot from!
This is an area where the popularity of direct-to-consumer Whole-Genome DNA Sequencing can help us non-research-scientists a little. If you have had your genome sequenced through a direct-to-consumer company, like 23andMe or DanteLabs, you can create a free account at Sequencing.com and import your genetic data into your account there. Then, you can take advantage of their new FREE Coronavirus DNA Health Report, which will scan your genome for the genes identified to impact how our bodies deal with coronaviruses in general.
Keep your eyes on the news as more research is released! I will keep up with regular updates as much as I can during this time, so it would be a great idea to subscribe to email updates. You’ll get an email each time I publish a new article on this site so you will always be informed! Be sure to check your email and confirm your subscription so you can start getting your updates delivered right to your inbox!