How your DNA may affect whether you get COVID-19 or become gravely ill

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Some people can blame their DNA for making them more likely to get COVID-19 or becoming severely ill if they get infected.

A study of more than 45,000 people with COVID-19 has uncovered 13 genetic variants linked to an increased risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 or a higher chance of developing severe illness, researchers report July 8 in Nature. The team includes more than 3,300 researchers in 25 countries.

Some of the variants had been uncovered in previous studies. For instance, researchers again confirmed a genetic link between blood type and the likelihood of getting infected, but don’t know why people with type O blood may be slightly protected. The study also verified that a variant that disables the TYK2 gene raises the risk of critical illness and hospitalization. That variant is known to protect against autoimmune disease, but leaves people more vulnerable to tuberculosis.   

Author(s): Tina Hesman Saey

Publication Date: 8 July 2021

Publication Site: Science News

Excel autocorrect errors still plague genetic research

Link: https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/biology/excel-autocorrect-errors-still-plague-genetic-research/

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Earlier this year we repeated our analysis. This time we expanded it to cover a wider selection of open access journals, anticipating researchers and journals would be taking steps to prevent such errors appearing in their supplementary data files.

We were shocked to find in the period 2014 to 2020 that 3,436 articles, around 31% of our sample, contained gene name errors. It seems the problem has not gone away, and is actually getting worse.

Author(s): Mark Ziemann, Deakin University and Mandhri Abeysooriya, Deakin University

Publication Date: 27 August 2021

Publication Site: Cosmos magazine

The Science Suggests a Wuhan Lab Leak

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-science-suggests-a-wuhan-lab-leak-11622995184

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In gain-of-function research, a microbiologist can increase the lethality of a coronavirus enormously by splicing a special sequence into its genome at a prime location. Doing this leaves no trace of manipulation. But it alters the virus spike protein, rendering it easier for the virus to inject genetic material into the victim cell. Since 1992 there have been at least 11 separate experiments adding a special sequence to the same location. The end result has always been supercharged viruses.

A genome is a blueprint for the factory of a cell to make proteins. The language is made up of three-letter “words,” 64 in total, that represent the 20 different amino acids. For example, there are six different words for the amino acid arginine, the one that is often used in supercharging viruses. Every cell has a different preference for which word it likes to use most.

In the case of the gain-of-function supercharge, other sequences could have been spliced into this same site. Instead of a CGG-CGG (known as “double CGG”) that tells the protein factory to make two arginine amino acids in a row, you’ll obtain equal lethality by splicing any one of 35 of the other two-word combinations for double arginine. If the insertion takes place naturally, say through recombination, then one of those 35 other sequences is far more likely to appear; CGG is rarely used in the class of coronaviruses that can recombine with CoV-2.

In fact, in the entire class of coronaviruses that includes CoV-2, the CGG-CGG combination has never been found naturally. That means the common method of viruses picking up new skills, called recombination, cannot operate here. A virus simply cannot pick up a sequence from another virus if that sequence isn’t present in any other virus.

Author(s): Steven Quay, Richard Muller

Publication Date: 6 June 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

A Primer on Insurance Policies and Genetics

Link: https://www.soa.org/resources/research-reports/2021/primer-ins-policies-genetics/

Full report: https://www.soa.org/globalassets/assets/files/resources/research-report/2021/primer-ins-policies-genetics-report.pdf

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A new subset of Somatic non-blueprint information is the growing field of Epigenetics, defined as changes ‘above
the genetics,’ where it has recently been found that lifestyle choices also induce non-heritable physical or chemical
changes directly on a person’s DNA after birth, and can be measured by isolating the DNA and revealing these
features. The U.S. Center for Disease Control states: “Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and
environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes
are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence.” (9)


An example of the latter is a finding that the tips of our chromosomes – called telomeres – can shorten or lengthen
in correlation with health status and ‘biological aging,’ a finding that was the subject of a 2009 Nobel Prize (10). An
additional example of epigenetics is in tobacco use, shown below, and generally discussed at the 2020 SOA Health
Conference by Dr. Brian Chen at this link https://webcasts.soa.org/products/actuarial-innovation-and-technologyupdate-on-recent-research#tab-product_tab_speaker_s.

Author(s): James Timmins

Publication Date: March 2021

Publication Site: Society of Actuaries