Scientists at the University of Oxford have identified a gene that makes people more susceptible to respiratory problems stemming from COVID-19, Bloomberg reports.
The gene, known as LZTFL1, doubles the risk of respiratory failure in someone infected with the virus, according to the researchers. A higher-risk version of the gene most likely decreases responses of the cells lining the airways and the lungs during COVID-19 infection.
The gene is disproportionately found in people of South Asian descent; About 60 percent of those in that group appear to wear it, compared to 15 percent of people with European heritage and only 2 percent of people of Afro-Caribbean descent, the study found.
This “shows that the way the lung responds to the infection is critical,” said James Davies, co-author of the study, according to Bloomberg. “This is important because most treatments have focused on changing the way the immune system reacts to the virus.”
Davies added, “If you have the higher-risk genotype and you get very bad with Covid, there’s a 50 percent chance that wouldn’t have happened to you if you had the lower-risk genotype.”
The findings could help explain why certain communities, on a small scale, and, on a larger scale, regions – including the Indian subcontinent – have been hit harder by COVID-19 than others. Other contributing factors, including socioeconomic conditions, are still crucial to consider when determining why certain populations are more at risk than others.
Vaccination remains the best way people with the higher risk genotype can protect themselves, the study’s authors noted.