Researchers spot Covid-linked genes that both harm and help virus

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 27, 2020

A new study on Covid-19 and MERS viruses has identified dozens of genes that both enable the viruses to replicate in cells and deter their functioning to prevent their spread.

Researchers at Yale University and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard screened hundreds of millions of cells for their study, published in the journal Cell.

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The researchers believe that the pro-viral and anti-viral role of these genes will help guide scientists in the development of new therapies to contain SARS-CoV-2.

Earlier studies revealed that SARS-CoV-2 attaches itself to certain cells to invade the body. However, less is known about why some cells are more susceptible to infection.

The researchers further noted that the study of genes will help to know host cells' susceptibility to infection and can provide an explanation on why some people exposed to the virus experience few or no symptoms and others develop severe cases or even die.


For the study, researchers performed a genome-wide screen of a line of green monkey cells, which are more likely to die after exposure to SARS-CoV-2 than commonly used human cell lines.

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This helped authors to simultaneously track the interactions between viruses and cells. The screens confirmed earlier findings on the ACE-2 gene, which acts as a doorway to SARS-CoV-2.

However, the researchers also detected two new pro-viral protein complexes and a third, which seems to help host cells in fighting infection. These genes also perform a myriad of functions including regulation of inflammation, which were linked to increased cell death after infection.

Yale's Craig Wilen, assistant professor in laboratory medicine and immunobiology and corresponding author of the paper, said: "It is very important to understand the wide variation of responses to Covid-19, for instance why advanced age makes it much more likely that people will die."

"We have identified both proviral and antiviral genes that may help us predict who is likely to get severely ill and what kind of drugs would be helpful or detrimental in treating patients," he noted.

Published on October 27, 2020

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