23 and Me, an online company that produces some of the best DNA testing kits in the world is now turning its considerable resources towards the COVID-19 pandemic with a new study that aims to look at the genetic difference between those that suffer the worst from the virus. While many hundreds of thousands of people around the world have contracted the coronavirus, the symptoms that people suffer seems to vary hugely between individuals, and 23andMe is aiming to find out why.
In a statement on its website, 23andMe’s Vice President of Research, Joyce Tung, Ph.D explained: "We have been looking at how 23andMe can leverage its research platform to help better understand how humans might respond to this virus. Ultimately, we want to publish our research findings in order to help provide more insight on COVID-19 for the scientific community.”
Starting this week, 23andMe is aiming to enroll thousands of volunteers from its existing user base to participate in the study. To start with, this will only include people from within the United States, but it will include both people who have been infected with COVID-19 and those who have avoided the infection thus far.
23andMe hasn't said how these surveys will be distributed, but if you're a 23andMe customer and you're interested in taking part, then keep an eye on your email inbox. If you're not already a 23andMe customer, signing up to one of its DNA testing services is the best way to get involved, but the program is aiming to make use of the existing genetic database, rather than expanding the current pool.
Since 23andMe already has the genetic data of these volunteers, the study will largely involve online surveys to assess whether or not they were infected and how severe their symptoms were.
Is genetics the answer?
While the hope is that this study will aid in the treatment and eventual vaccination or cure of COVID-19, 23andMe is keen to point out that there are no guarantees. Indeed, the best-case scenario is that infection rates drop so low that it will become impossible to discern genetic patterns from the sample size.
Regardless of whether it ends up helping to develop a cure or treat coronavirus symptoms, it’s great to see DNA testing companies like 23andMe leveraging their resources to help fight the global pandemic.