COVID-19 Update #3: 23andMe

Are you tired of my Dr. Who references? Are you tired of the hermit life? It seems so long ago this all began. Actually, it was.

On January 29, I first wrote about COVID-19, not yet dubbed COVID-19. That’s when it occurred to me that bats’ response to viruses might help us understand and even treat the disease. You can read about it here.

On February 19, I posted that wee knew that people may be able to spread COVID-19 before becoming symptomatic. Staying away from each other, especially when symptomatic has a net result of a healthier population.

By March 4, at least nine Americans had died. I wrote a little about that, too. You can check it out here.

Now we’re in the midst of what is predicted to be a terrible week. Based on yesterday’s deaths, Americans are dying at about a rate of one every minute. Holy cripe! I never thought it would get this bad.

Who doesn’t know the meaning of “flatten the curve,” and “social distancing?” If you wonder what that means in your area, check out this interactive graph. It’s an interesting graph. Even with a flattened curve, there are still significant deaths. For example, Texas has a much lower peak with 72 deaths per day at its highest, yet that still results in over 2,000 deaths. Massachusetts peak is much later in the year than Illinois. Check it out. You’ll be amazed.

Graph from NPR. Click here to see how your State compares..

People and corporations got super-innovative in order to help out: Factories converted from cars to respirators; crafters making masks; craft breweries making hand sanitizers.

23andMe threw their hat in the ring, too.

According to Wired, 23andMe is mining their vast data bank to discover the genetic links to the varied responses individuals have to the novel coronovirus that causes COVID-19.

People who know more than me are surprised by the wide range of symptoms: varied gastrointestinal distress, sore throat, fever, sore gums, loss of taste, loss of smell, shortness of breath. One or more of these in varying degrees, or none at all. Some don’t even know they contracted COVID-19. Others are sick for weeks. Some begin to recover and relapse, ending in the ICUs. Somewhere around 2% never recover.

23andMe’s data bank contains the genetic information plus self-reported information from ten million people. Eighty percent consent to have their information used for research. That has already launched 23andMe into a drug discovery and genetic research powerhouse.

23andMe invited their USA customers to take part in the COVID-19 surveys. They believe they will find a genetic link to the disease variability. The chances are slim that it will be as cut and dried as the BRCA gene mutation, which identifies women who are four times more likely to develop breast cancer.

If you are interested in reading more about the gene, I suggest Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book, The Gene. Quite intriguing and pretty easy to understand. (I might get a penny or two, if you order Dr. Sid’s book through this link.)

Stephen Chapman, a respiratory physician and researcher at the University of Oxford’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, isn’t part of the 23andMe project. He has this to say:

With a new, devastating human disease, there is an urgent need to understand the biology. Mapping the genes that direct different immune responses may reveal targets for novel therapies or help doctors provide more tailored care to individual patients. “Both [gene data mining] and whole genome sequencing approaches can play a valuable role here.

Age, underlying health problems, access to early testing and quality care—these things will matter most of all in determining who lives and who dies from Covid-19. But DNA almost certainly plays a role in shaping disease outcomes. And there’s still everything left to learn about it.

Read the full article at
artists rendition of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (19nCoV)

I wonder what ethical questions will arise from 23andMe’s project.

“Creatures from another world…No one quite knows where they came from, but they’re as old as the Universe, or very nearly. And they have survived this long because they have the most perfect defence system…”

Dr. Who Monster, the Lonely Assassins (or the crying angels.)

What do you think or 23andMe’s project? Are you part of their data base? Did you consent to have your genome, and personally supplied information used for research? How do you feel about them profiting from your DNA sample?