Ancestry® COVID-19 Study Points to Gene Associated with Male Susceptibility to COVID-19

LEHI, Utah & SAN FRANCISCO--()--Ancestry®, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, today announced a new, preliminary finding stemming from analysis of Ancestry’s COVID-19 Research Study. Ancestry’s scientists have identified a DNA region which may be associated with COVID-19 susceptibility near the IVNS1ABP gene. This association, only present in males, could help explain why the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 seems to take a greater toll on men than women.

In the context of a viral infection like COVID-19, the human immune system is responsible for recognizing that a virus is invading the body and mounting a response. Failures, shortcomings or delays by the immune system can allow the infection to flourish, increasing the severity of the disease.

“Our early analysis points to a gene called IVNS1ABP, that has previously been associated with influenza infections. If this gene is involved in COVID-19 susceptibility, this could suggest that SARS-CoV-2 and influenza may use a similar mechanism[1] to multiply in the host’s cells and could help scientists understand why some people are more seriously affected by the virus,” said Dr. Catherine Ball, Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer. “It’s notable that this genetic association is observed only in men -- it may be a clue that helps scientists understand why men are more likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms.”

Key takeaways:

  • Scientists are currently trying to understand if an individual’s DNA plays a role in how susceptible he/she is to COVID-19 infection and how sick he/she will become if infected.
  • Ancestry conducted a study to identify DNA differences that occur at a noticeably higher rate in one group relative to the another (i.e. COVID-19 positive versus COVID-19 negative)
  • Ancestry identified a DNA region that appears to be associated with COVID-19 susceptibility near the IVNS1ABP gene. This DNA region appears to be associated with an increased rate of COVID-19 infection in males but not females.
  • The human IVNS1ABP gene creates a protein that is used in influenza virus replication.

Additional details:

Launched in April as part of Ancestry’s commitment to health, 600,000 members of the AncestryDNA® network have already volunteered to participate in the study to help find genetic clues on how individuals respond to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Ancestry will make de-identified study data available to qualified researchers in organizations working to develop vaccines or treatments, or better understand the disease.

Ancestry scientists identified a DNA difference called “rs6668622-T” that is associated with 44% increased odds of COVID-19 susceptibility in males (Odds Ratio=1.44; P-value < 1x10-8). Remarkably, females with the same DNA difference do not demonstrate increased risk of infection (Odds Ratio=1.04; P-value > 0.05). Although both males and females might carry the rs6668622-T DNA difference, its association with COVID-19 susceptibility are different.

The gene closest to this DNA region is called IVNS1ABP, which is short for Influenza Virus NS1A Binding Protein. When an influenza virus infects a person, it hijacks the host’s cells and uses each infected cell like a factory to pump out more copies of the virus and other resources that are favorable to the virus. One of the resources that influenza virus makes when it hijacks a cell is called “NS1”, which stops the infected cell from producing proteins that trigger an immune response. Human IVNS1ABP is known to interact with viral NS1 within an influenza-infected cell. Although this gene is interesting biologically, this finding is preliminary.

Ancestry is preparing a detailed report of its approach and findings for peer review and invites scientists from around the world to determine whether this finding holds up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

“Ancestry is just one organization in the global scientific community mobilized to understand and fight this pandemic. When we launched the study two months ago, we did so with the intent of helping rapidly advance global understanding of COVID-19,” said Dr. Ron Park, MD, EVP of Health and DNA, Ancestry. “We are excited about this preliminary finding and the opportunity to advance further discussion on the interaction between human genetics and COVID-19 susceptibility and response.”

Last month, Ancestry shared that an early analysis of self-reported study data shows that healthcare workers with direct exposure had six-fold higher odds of COVID-19 infection than the overall survey population, while people living with someone with COVID-19 were at 121 times higher odds of COVID-19 than the overall survey population.

Ancestry’s COVID-19 Study will continue over the next several months.

About Ancestry®

Ancestry®, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, empowers journeys of personal discovery to enrich lives. With our unparalleled collection of 24 billion records and over 17 million people in our growing AncestryDNA network, customers can discover their family story and gain actionable insights about their health and wellness. For over 30 years, we’ve built trusted relationships with millions of people who have chosen us as the platform for discovering, preserving and sharing the most important information about themselves and their families.

Bringing nearly a decade of experience in genomic science together with the world’s largest consumer DNA network and its world-class science team, Ancestry harnesses the power of genetics and millions of phenotypic data points to gain deeper insights into personalized genomics. In 2019, Ancestry launched AncestryHealth® to empower people to take proactive steps – in collaboration with their healthcare provider – to address potential health risks identified in their genes and family health history.

[1] Othumpangat, S., Noti, J. D., Blachere, F. M., & Beezhold, D. H. (2013). Expression of non-structural-1A binding protein in lung epithelial cells is modulated by miRNA-548an on exposure to influenza A virus. Virology, 447(1-2), 84-94.



Eric McKeeby


Eric McKeeby