Scientists discovered a gene that is common in South Asians that doubles the risk of dying from Covid.
Oxford University researchers found the LZTFL1 gene — present in 60 per cent of South Asians — allows the virus to multiply in the lungs easier.
It is found in only 15% of white people, and in just 2% of black people.
Scientists believe the genetic variation may explain why Covid has affected the UK in adisproportionate amount of South Asians.
They stressed that the genetic cause of the disparity is not the only one, and emphasized the importance of economic and social factors.
Data from the Office for National Statistics During the second wave in England’s pandemic, Bangladeshi men were nearly five-fold more likely to succumb to the virus than their white counterparts.
Pakistani men were second most likely to be affected (3.4 times more likely), while Indian men were fourth (4.95 times more likely).
And India has the third highest death toll in the world, with 459,652 people dying with the virus since the start of the pandemic — 330 per million people.
Scientists discovered a gene that doubles the chance of dying from Covid in 61.2 percent of South Asian ancestry people.
ONS data shows that the death rate from covids in the second wave was five times higher in Bangladeshi Brits than in white adults in England.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that Black African Britons had the highest number of fatalities last spring.
Oxford researchers looked at cells from 48 individuals to discover which gene was responsible for the higher death rate in some people.
They analysed DNA sequences using a pioneering technique called Micro Capture-C to isolate the specific gene and work out how it caused more severe disease.
LZTFL1 is known to cause more severe diseases by blocking a protein that helps the lungs fight off the virus.
It makes it easier for the virus enter the lung cells and multiply, leading to their deterioration.
Researchers said that the fact that the gene works in this manner does not affect how vaccines protect against Covid.
Scientists had worried that the gene could be affecting people’s immune systems. This could have led to jabs not working as well for them.
Professor James Davies, who was one of the co-leads in the study, stated at a press briefing that if this gene were to hit the immune system, it would be very worrying that people with this genetic mutation would not be able to respond.
“The way this gene affects the lungs is completely different from the way the vaccine works against it.
“The effect is in biological factors of the lungs. This means that people with higher risk versions of the gene should fully respond to vaccination.”
Experts had previously identified a DNA stretch that could double the risk for death in adults 65 years and older, but they didn’t know the exact gene that caused it.
Professor Jim Hughes, a genetics specialist, was co-lead of the study.
“We found that the increased risk is not due to a difference between the gene coding for a specific protein, but rather because of a change in DNA that turns on a gene.
“It’s harder to detect the gene affected by this indirect switch effect.
The team used a new, highly accurate technique to analyse DNA and pinpoint the exact gene responsible for the effect.
Professor Davies stated that the higher-risk DNA code is more common in certain black and minority ethnic groups, but not in other communities.
Socioeconomic factors could also explain why some communities have been particularly affected by the Covid pandemic.
‘Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination.
“The vaccine should cancel out the increased risk because the genetic signal affects lung rather than immune system.
Dr Raghib Ali, an infectious disease expert at University of Cambridge, stated that the discovery of this gene has made it possible to understand why South Asian communities have experienced such high death rates.
Dr Ali, who is an independent adviser on Covid as well as ethnicity to Race Dsiparity Unit within the Cabinet Office, stated it was important not ignore other factors, such deprivation.
He added that there was an unexplained residual excess risk among South Asians, even after taking all these risk factors into consideration.
‘Other studies have also shown that South Asians and Bangladeshis in particular — but not black groups — have worse survival than whites.
“This, along with other studies, suggests that their increased risk of dying from the disease may be due to their higher likelihood of being infected with this gene.
“Vaccine uptake is high in South Asian communities, but this study confirms the importance to take the booster doses immediately to maximize their protection and reduce their chance of developing an infection.