Genetic-testing kits used to trace ancestry could shed light on why people have different coronavirus symptoms experiences, according to researchers.
Scientists are asking people who have used DNA services, such as Ancestry DNA, FTDNA and 23andMe, to join a study which aims to identify key genes involved in the body’s response to the infection.
They believe understanding the effect genes have on susceptibility to Covid-19 could aid efforts to tackle the pandemic and help combat future disease outbreaks.
More than 30 million people worldwide have used genetic testing services and researchers are now urging them to share their DNA data to speed up discoveries that could help fight the virus.
Jim Wilson, professor of human genetics and co-leader the study, said: “Some people suffer no ill effects from coronavirus infection, yet others require intensive care.
“We need to identify the genes causing this susceptibility, so we can understand the biology of the virus and hence develop better drugs to fight it.”
Albert Tenesa, professor of quantitative genetics and co-leader, added: “Time is of the essence.
“To identify the genes that explain why some people get very sick from coronavirus and others don’t, we need the solidarity of a large proportion of people from different countries who can share their DNA testing results with us.
“In this case, size really matters.”
The team aims to identify genes that influence the risk of developing Covid-19 and those that affect disease severity, by comparing volunteers’ symptoms, or lack of them, with their DNA.
Those taking part in the University of Edinburgh study, called Coronagenes, will complete online questionnaires about their health, lifestyle and any symptoms they have experienced, such as fever or a persistent cough.
Updating the survey before, during and after infection will help scientists detect any patterns that might indicate how the virus progresses.
Researchers also aim to analyse the long-term health consequences of infection and self-isolation.
To volunteer for the study visit ed.ac.uk/coronagenes.