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The Fight Against COVID-19: Sequencing the DNA of Coronavirus

Professors from different health industry co-wrote an opinion piece about the Sequencing the DNA of COVID-19 patients.

Professor Richard Buggs, Professor of Evolutionary Genomics, and Professor Richard Nichols, Professor of Genetics, both with the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, co-wrote an opinion piece for The Conversation about sequencing the DNA of patients screened for coronavirus to help save lives.

Scientists should start sequencing the genomes of coronavirus patients. Looking for DNA differences between patients who are severely affected and those with mild symptoms. This could allow us to predict who else would be vulnerable and advise them to take precautions. We may be able to use this knowledge against the coronavirus epidemic before a vaccine is widely available.

“The name coronavirus itself derives from the Latin for crown, because they are sphere-shaped but covered in spikes, which resembles a crown.”

It would be valuable to know if key DNA variations are shared by those rare people who are young and appeared to be healthy but developed severe symptoms from the coronavirus. We might then be able to predict which doctors and nurses are most at risk. Of course, the prediction may not be accurate and even if we don’t even know if someone’s chances of severe symptoms from the coronavirus are affected by their genes. However, we could answer these questions relatively cheaply and rapidly by using commonplace DNA sequencing technology.


“We would need to sequence the whole genomes of coronavirus victims who need intensive care and compare them with the genomes of people who have only mild symptoms. With only a few thousand genomes from each category, we could quickly find out if there is mileage in this approach,” said one of the professors.

Perhaps broken genes involved in the immune system or lung cell surfaces. If so, we could quickly discover them using a method called genome-wide association study. If just a couple of broken genes make all the difference, a genetic test for coronavirus susceptibility could be simple to make, cheap and accurate.