It has been a tiring few months for us to hear about and deal with the oscillating advance and decline of the Corona Virus, and we’re all already on our toes to listen to this pandemic leave our lives to be. It has been striking two years since people saw their schools, colleges, offices, and the new normal has taken the face of exhaustion for us all.
The pandemic has made us see the worst the world has to offer, with the dreadful sight of the second wave of Covid-19 still evident to us like a nightmare. The lives we lost, the tragedy we felt, and the hopelessness we endured are still relatively fresh in our memory, and I believe it would stick around for quite a while.
Even though the pace of vaccination and people’s inclination towards getting inoculated has averted the fear of a third wave, we can never be too sure about what is approaching us with this deadly virus.
A new study has been released commenting on the South Asian gene’s prominence to be more prone to the threat of the Covid-19 virus. While publishing these results, the Medical Research Council Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine has argued and identified that the respiratory failures so aggressively observed during the second pandemic wave have resulted from the gene that doubles the probability of such a failure.
It has been shared that this gene is called LZTFL1, also now referred to as the South Asian descent gene, because around 60 per cent of people with South Asian ancestry share it. It is quite a proportion and explanation, though incomplete, for the events that occurred in the recent past.
Not just for India, some communities in the United Kingdom also witnessed excess deaths from respiratory failures after contracting the virus, more so than other people in the country. These people have thus been traced to share South Asian descent and share the gene mentioned above.
It happens because the higher risk version of the gene is said to prevent the cells lining the lungs and the airways from responding to the virus appropriately, failing and collapse of the body’s respiratory system.
While we have a lot more to discuss the details of the published research, allow me to quickly trace that this gene alone can not be held responsible for the higher incidence of such outcomes in the mentioned communities.
It can be explained and corroborated because the gene LZTFL1, even though much prevalent in South Asian communities, also shows a meagre presence in other descendants. For example- 15 per cent of people with European ancestry carry the mentioned gene, and around 2 per cent of Afro-American descendants also share the gene.
As a result, higher mortality numbers for black communities, minority groups, and socially backward classes cannot be explained with just the presence of the high-risk gene. It leaves open for discussion and accountability, the discrimination even in deaths when it comes to an ever-present virus. Let’s preserve the conversation for some other time.
For now, let’s understand what this study entails and what repercussions it could have for the people as we move ahead. Have we been able to find all the answers we were looking for? Let’s find out.
Researchers informed on this theory that the gene causing high risk to the virus, predominantly in a specific section of the society, were undertaken to analyze the cause of the increased risk of under 65-year-old people from dying of the virus.
The threshold for age has been kept because older people have been already understood to have a greater risk of organ failure and respiratory contraction because of senility factors.
Using cutting edge technology, researchers at the University of Oxford, under the guidance of Professor James Davies, found the gene that led to this outcome under consideration. As mentioned, this cutting-edge technology is a rather complicated set of action steps undertaken for the experiment to suit the required process.
It includes the team training an artificial intelligence algorithm to analyze vast quantities of data of the genetic samples collected from hundreds of types of cells from all parts of the body, as explained by the abstract of the research report published in the journal Nature Genetics this week.
The data analysis of the genetic data of the cells through the designed algorithm showed that the genetic signal was likely to affect cells present in the individual’s lungs.
But how does the gene hamper the body of the individual in which it is present? What is the mechanism behind the increased risk of the virus?
It happens because the higher risk version is said to prevent the cells lining the lungs and the airways from responding to the virus appropriately, failing and collapse of the body’s respiratory system. It hinders the body’s ability to contain the virus, further dampens the cause, and increases risk incidence.
It can be concisely observed through a weaker response of an individual’s lungs to the virus, requiring outside assistance to correspond to the needs. It was seen to a massive extent during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India when every case of the mutated variant left people on oxygen beds with short breaths and weakened pulses. Many COVID-19 cases in the country were converted into respiratory failure both during and post the disease.
But South Asians have shown a quick recovery response to the virus? How does the prevalence of the gene corroborate that?
It solely impacts the individual’s lungs, keeping its impact on the immune system neutral. The individual’s recovery from the virus has resulted from the individual’s body and has varied differently.
Since the gene has no impact on the immune system, can we say that the individual carrying it should generally respond to the vaccines?
Fortunately, yes. Individuals carrying the apparent gene are supposed to respond generally to the vaccines, researchers say.
“Though we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher risk are likely to benefit from the vaccination. Since the genetic signal affects lung rather than the immune system it means that the increased risk should be cancelled out by the vaccine,” a statement quoted study co-lead Professor Prof James Davies as saying.
Article Proofread and Edited by Shreedatri Banerjee