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Study Highlights Limitations of Using Genetic Data for Evaluating COVID-19 Risk

While COVID-19 patients' genetics play a role in the severity of their disease, making the best use of genomic data in clinical care requires careful consideration of the molecular testing strategies employed, according to a study appearing this week in BMC Genomics. In addition to the environmental, clinical, and social factors involved in COVID-19 patient outcomes, it is increasingly clear that pathogen and host genetic factors are important, as well. Scientists from Comenius University in Slovakia analyzed whole-exome sequencing (WES) data from 27 people who died of SARS-CoV-2 infection, focusing on frequencies of DNA variants in genes previously associated with infection and the severity of COVID-19. Their findings support a likely role for a handful of host genetic factors previously identified as involved in COVID-19 severity and suggest that genetic stratification of patients with COVID-19 from WES data would be possible. Yet doing so in clinical practice, they caution, would require overcoming several limitations. For example, WES only analyzes exonic variants and may then fail to detect potentially related intronic variants, the study's authors write. Meanwhile, "whole-genome sequencing is becoming increasingly attractive as an alternative, due to its broader coverage, decreasing cost, and more comprehensive information," they add.