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Study Finds Possible Genetic Link To COVID-19-Related Smell And Taste Loss After Analyzing 23andMe Data

Data from almost 70,000 adults in the U.S. and U.K. were evaluated as a part of the study


Researchers have linked one of the most well-known symptoms of COVID-19 to a genetic variation after analyzing data from genetic testing company 23andMe.

Using the data of people who self-reported that they had contracted COVID-19, researchers determined variations of two genes found on chromosome 4 indicated an 11% increase in a person’s likeliness to lose their senses of taste and smell.

The genesis, UGT2A1 and UGT2A2, help people smell and make enzymes that metabolize odorants, substances that produce distinctive smells. The genes are also linked to sensory loss during infection. 

“Studies suggest that loss of smell, a hallmark symptom of COVID-19, stems from infections taking hold in smell-supporting cells called sustentacular cells,” per Science News.

The specifics of genes’ role in the process are still unclear. Scientists believe that the loss of smell from COVID-19 is related to damage to infected cells in the olfactory epithelium of the nose. 

Early data suggests that supporting cells of the olfactory epithelium are the ones mostly being infected by the virus, and presumably this leads to the death of the neurons themselves,” said associate professor of otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Dr. Justin Turner to NBC News.  Turner was not involved in the study.

“But we don’t really really know why and when that happens, and why it seems to preferentially happen in certain individuals,” he added.

Variation in the location on the chromosome of the UGT2A1 and UGT2A2 correlated with the loss of the sense in COVID-19 cases.

The study included information from nearly 70,000 adults in the United States and the United Kingdom. Because the sense of taste and the sense of smell were evaluated in one survey question, researchers can not definitively is the genetic variations are more closely linked to the loss of one sense over the other.

“It was this really beautiful example of science where, starting with a large body of activated research participants who have done this 23andMe test, we were able to very quickly gain some biological insights into this disease that would otherwise be very, very difficult to do,” said Adam Auton, vice president of human genetics at 23andMe in a statement. Auton was the lead author of the study.

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4 responses to “Study Finds Possible Genetic Link To COVID-19-Related Smell And Taste Loss After Analyzing 23andMe Data”

  1. pandusa says:

    Space Time- I wonder about that too. I never really thought about it before corona. If my head was congested; I didn’t eat or pay any attention. Interesting- I have known people to get tested because of lack of taste /smell, test positive and quarantine, but never get actively sick . But their taste/smell did not come back fully for up to 2 weeks. So many questions about this virus and how it is like or unlike others.

  2. Frautschik says:

    You might want to give this one an extra proof read.

  3. Space-TimeCurvature says:

    Interesting, Im curious if that is for other corona viruses too, such as flu has chance to cause smell and taste loss. This might be a hint at a larger principle at work here having to do with all corona viruses that infect humans. Between viruses and interaction with sustentacular cells, depending on variations in chromosomes.

  4. eddiethead666 says:

    very interesting. I experienced loss of taste/smell during my stint in October but it has since returned. Others haven’t been so lucky.