A genetic link to a virus susceptibility?


Just what we needed.

If the facts about COVID-19 weren’t bad enough, we now discover some of the risk factors may be in our genes.

Yes, indeedy, if you’ve taken a DNA test for genealogy, you too may be able to find out if you need to do more hiding-under-the-bed.

Which is where The Legal Genealogist is… and may remain…

Because — sigh — an extra dose of susceptibility to COVID-19 may well be in my genes.

This issue popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday as a post from fellow genealogist Lori Thornton. There was a newly-published scientific study identifying the Neanderthal origin of specific genetic markers linked to a higher susceptibility to respiratory failure among COVID-19 patients.

It’s a preliminary study that hasn’t been peer-reviewed — meaning it’s based on data that other scientists haven’t had a chance yet to look at and either confirm or refute.

The authors are Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo. Zeberg is with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany; Pääbo is with the Karolinska Institutet at Stockholm, Sweden. Their study, “The major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals,”1 is available online at bioRxiv, which explains that it is:

a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences. It is operated by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a not-for-profit research and educational institution. By posting preprints on bioRxiv, authors are able to make their findings immediately available to the scientific community and receive feedback on draft manuscripts before they are submitted to journals.2

So this is not take-it-to-the-bank science. This is we-think-this-could-be-an-issue science. But here’s the kicker: this study just says the suspect genetic marker is of Neanderthal origin. There’s another study that it relies on — and it is a peer-reviewed study — that documents two specific risk factors for worse outcomes for COVID-19 patients: blood type A and “a … gene cluster as a genetic susceptibility locus in patients with Covid-19 with respiratory failure.”3 The documented risk, at this time, is only for Caucasians.


Guess what this Caucasian’s blood type is?

And guess what my genetic susceptibility locus shows?

Yup. I’m blood type A, and I do show that genetic susceptibility, although — I’m glad to say — at a reduced level.

And here’s how I know.

The raw data from the various genealogical DNA testing companies can be downloaded as files we can then review to see what values are shown at various locations. In my case, I looked at my raw data files from 23andMe, Ancestry, and Family Tree DNA. And they all say the same thing: at the specific genomic marker, rs10490770, I have the mixed marker C/T.

If I’d had T/T (one T marker from each parent), I’d have been at lowest risk. If I’d had C/C (one C marker from each parent), I’d be at highest risk. With the mixed marker C/T (one C from one parent and one T from the other), it’s a mixed bag: some additional risk. And in any case, nobody’s entirely sure how much risk. At SNPedia, it’s been assigned a magnitude of 1.7 for the mixed markers (somewhere just below the “looks interesting enough to be worth reading” stage) and 3 for the high risk markers (“Probably worth your time”).4


I’d love to know which parent to blame, but there aren’t any clear indicators. My paternal half-brother doesn’t have any C marker, but then neither do any of my mother’s siblings who’ve tested.


I think I’ll go back to binge-watching Hamilton… it’s a sure bet I’m not going out and about any time soon…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Maybe in our genes???,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 5 July 2020).


  1. Hugo Zeberg and Svante Pääbo, “The major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals,” bioRxiv, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (https://www.biorxiv.org/ : accessed 5 July 2020).
  2. About bioRxiv,” bioRxiv, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (https://www.biorxiv.org/ : accessed 5 July 2020).
  3. David Ellinghaus, Ph.D., et al., “Genomewide Association Study of Severe Covid-19 with Respiratory Failure,” New England Journal of Medicine, posted 17 June 2020 (https://www.nejm.org/ : accessed 5 July 2020).
  4. See “rs10490770,” and “Magnitude,” SNPedia (https://snpedia.com/ : accessed 5 July 2020). And note that the SNPedia explanation includes the fact that it shows these as A/A, A/G and G/G while the testing companies use the T/T, C/T and C/C designations. So if you’re looking at your raw data, look for TT (good), CT (not so good) or CC (possibly bad).
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