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Genealogy DNA test kit enthusiasts share data to find cure


Customers shop in ALDI in Duesseldorf, Germany, as the virus continues to spread. Photo: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Customers shop in ALDI in Duesseldorf, Germany, as the virus continues to spread. Photo: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay


Customers shop in ALDI in Duesseldorf, Germany, as the virus continues to spread. Photo: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

A hunt for genes that may betray carriers by initiating or exacerbating Covid-19 infection is being carried out using DNA data from genealogy hobbyists.

Tens of thousands of people who have bought self-testing kits from 23andMe have signed up to log their experience of Covid-19, and that of relatives, in an attempt to understand why some people suffer so much more severely than others.

Customers bought the kits as part of research into their family history, or for health reasons, to see if they had a genetic predisposition to conditions from baldness to diabetes, or even Alzheimer's.

Over the years, 23andMe has established a database of more than 10 million genetic profiles, and claims that 80pc of its customers have consented to the use of that data, once anonymised, for research.

Its giant survey, which it hopes will eventually have hundreds of thousands of contributors, aims to help with the development of a Covid-19 therapy by pinpointing which genes may play a part in worsening its effects.

"We need to develop therapeutics to help treat this disease," said Adam Auton, 23andMe's principal scientist leading efforts on its Covid-19 study.

"We are trying to contribute to the basic research that will move the scientific field forward... making it available to the scientific community at large - and that will include pharma, including our partners as well."

Mr Auton says that the survey's results, which will be freely available, should be ready by the end of summer.

There is no guarantee that a clear genetic link will be found, but any pointers may help in drug research.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will today warn the nation not to expect major changes to the lockdown after it emerged Britain has one of the world's worst coronavirus death rates.

Data published by the Cabinet Office yesterday show Spain and Belgium are the only two countries with a worse per-head death rate than Britain.

On eight separate days this month, more than 1,000 people died of the virus in the UK.

Mr Johnson will chair a cabinet meeting this morning at which ministers will discuss the way forward, but it became clear yesterday that they favour a highly cautious approach to lifting the restrictions.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said that in Germany - which contained the virus better than any other European country - the transmission rate had gone up after it eased its lockdown.

He said: "It's vital we proceed carefully... we mustn't gamble away the sacrifices and the progress that we've made."

The rise in Germany's coronavirus infection rate following the easing of its lockdown has raised concerns that most social-distancing restrictions will have to remain in place to control the outbreak.

The number of people infected with Covid-19 by each carrier has risen from about 0.7 to 0.96 since restrictions were eased on April 20.

Although that number means the epidemic is still under control, it gives the German government little leeway to remove more restrictions.

Officials urged the public to continue to abide by social-distancing rules, including wearing masks while on public transport or shopping. (© Daily Telegraph, London)