Investigating the impact of genetic variability on COVID-19 infection and severity

In a recently published study medRxiv* Pre-print servers demonstrated researchers how heredity in the strict sense (H2) leads to variability in susceptibility to infection with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and in severity among different individuals.

Study: A Monte Carlo estimate of heritability of COVID-19 infection and severity from AncestryDNA survey data. Image source:


Genetic variability indicates variations in observable traits or phenotypes that are due to genetic makeup rather than environmental factors. That H2 is a subset of genetic heritability and represents the mean of the aggregated phenotypic variance due to all genetic factors passed from parents to their biological children. And that’s how it happened H2 Estimates of the vulnerability and severity of COVID-19 could provide clues as to how this is affecting families.

At the population level, detailed knowledge about H2 could help inform public health interventions. This is of great importance as COVID-19 has created an environment of uncertainty and its effective management and prevention of its transmission at the community level requires data-driven public health management. On the other hand, H2 Estimates of susceptibility and severity of COVID-19 could enable physicians to monitor families at high risk for developing COVID-19 and provide appropriate medical resources.

About the study

In the present study, researchers retrieved AncestryDNA data to generate a Monte Carlo (MC) estimate of the H2 a COVID-19 infection (H2Inf) and severity (H2sev). AncestryDNA and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals worked privately to collect online data from volunteer respondents from their customer base. The survey assessed each respondent’s infection status, risk factors, exposure and symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It also included full information on each respondent’s biological family members, including data on infections and hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

AncestryDNA survey data was obtained by sampling a large, heterogeneous population. Therefore, it had well-defined COVID-19 phenotypes and familial relationships and was ideal for H2 estimates. The team binarized the subjects’ phenotypes for COVID-19 infection and severity for H2 estimates.

There were 2.24% of COVID-19 infections among subjects among respondents who reported a positive reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or antibody test for COVID-19 or had flu-like symptoms after February 2020. It was also 0.25%. severe COVID-19 subjects among respondents reporting COVID-19-related hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) with oxygen support, or a ventilator.

In the absence of meeting the requirements for either phenotype, the subject phenotype was null; otherwise it was one. The team assigned a null phenotype for both outcomes to respondents who did not report their parents were infected or hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Remarkably, the household co-infection of the MC simulation, ρ, was highly variable. Researchers simulated data from a subject who reported infection or hospitalization of one or both parents due to COVID-19 for MC estimation; if one or both parents were infected (ρ I) and hospitalized (ρH). Furthermore, they adjusted the study model for both phenotypes according to gender, age and smoking status.

study results

That H2 Estimates of COVID-19 infection susceptibility, ie H2information was between 0.1554 and 0.1833. For ρ values ​​of 0.163, 0.170, and 0.530, respectively H2information Values ​​were 0.1554, 0.1577 and 0.1833.

Likewise the H2sev Values ​​ranged from 0.0734 to 0.0751. For ρ values ​​of 0.163, 0.170 and 0.530 the following applies: H2sev the values ​​were 0.0734, 0.0751 and 0.0705, respectively. This H2 Estimates showed that the contribution of genetic heritability to COVID-19 infection was moderate and the severity of COVID-19 was low.


In summary, the genetic component of heredity H2 could only partially explain the observed variability in susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and its severity. Furthermore, the MC estimates did not account for recessive effects or gene-gene interactions. Therefore, clinicians and healthcare professionals should use this approach with caution to monitor the biological family members of those infected with SARS-CoV-2.

*Important NOTE

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that have not been peer-reviewed and therefore should not be relied upon as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health behavior or be treated as established information.

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