How your genes could predict your risk for severe COVID-19

San Diego scientists reveal high-risk variants
COVID-19 hospital
Posted at 8:17 PM, Jan 22, 2021

Scientists are getting closer to understanding one of the vexing mysteries of COVID-19: why some people hardly notice the infection while others get hit with severe disease.

A study by a team of San Diego scientists adds to a growing body of research suggesting the answer lies in our genes.

Using a first-of-its kind 3D mapping technique, researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology identified 12 high-risk variants for COVID-19.

The team showed these variants interact with genetic switches that can send certain immune cells into a frenzy, causing inflammation in the lungs that is the hallmark of severe COVID-19.

LJI computer scientist Dr. Ferhat Ay said the 3D map was critical to their findings. The first-of-its kind map, published in December in Nature Genetics, opens the door to a greater understanding of a range of diseases, including cancer and asthma.

Traditionally scientists have viewed DNA like a long strand, but the map allows researchers to see DNA as it truly is inside cells: like a bowl of spaghetti.

By looking at DNA in three dimensions, researchers are able to see sections that correspond, even though they may be far apart in the genetic code, Ay said.

Thanks to genetic research like this, people can get an individual prediction of their risk of COVID-19 with a cheek swab or saliva sample. Users can upload their DNA results from sites like Ancestry or 23 and Me to a website called, which will scan their genome for signs of high-risk variants.

The service is currently available for free.