Edinburgh University is looking for volunteers who have used home DNA test kits to help in the fight against coronavirus.

Scientists from the university are conducting a study called Coronagenes that will look into those who have used DNA testing services to gain ancestry and health insights. Researchers say that this is to help them to identify the critical genes used in the body’s response to the infection.  

Data from the popular home DNA testing kits will be used to help the scientists as to why some people who catch the virus have displayed no symptoms while others become very ill.

Researchers added that understanding the genes that are susceptible to covid-19 could help them tackle the pandemic and help combat any future outbreaks.

Jim Wilson, professor of human genetics at the University of Edinburgh, who is co-leading 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.”

As part of the survey, the team are hoping to identify those genes that are risk of developing covid-19.

The team is also hoping to identify those who are severely affected by the disease by comparing the symptoms of the volunteers – or lack of them – with their DNA.

Those who are taking part in Coronagenes will complete an online survey about their health, lifestyle and any symptoms they have experienced that are linked to the virus such as persistent cough or fever.

Modern laboratory interior. Genetic Research Laboratory
Modern laboratory interior. Genetic Research Laboratory

The survey will be updated during the lifetime of the infection to help scientists detect any patterns that might indicate how the virus is progressed.  

By providing the data, volunteers will help the team to avoid the costly time-consuming exercise of collecting hundreds of thousands of DNA samples that would otherwise be needed to map the genes involved.

Albert Tenesa, professor of quantitative genetics at the University of Edinburgh, also co-leading, said: “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 matters.”

This study is supported by the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, Health Data Research UK and Wellcome Trust.

To volunteer for the study, visit: ed.ac.uk/coronagenes.

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