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a person administering a COVID test

Imagine taking a genetic test that could tell you your personal risk of developing complications and dying from a particular disease, such as cancer, heart attack or even COVID. A version of such a test exists—albeit an imperfect one.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are becoming an increasingly common avenue to assess COVID risk. The approach holds potential for fighting the disease by identifying the locations, or loci, on the human genome that put an individual at higher or lower risk for severe disease. Scientists hope it may eventually unlock the door for new forms of treatment.

“Whole-genome sequencing allows you to check every single base pair in the genome,” says Athanasios Kousathanas, principal genomics data scientist at the London-based company Genomics England. “And this allows you to find the particular genes that might be involved with higher precision.”

Some experts warn, however, that GWAS alone are insufficient for accurately assessing COVID risk. They say that genomic analysis may be difficult to disentangle from social risk factors and could leave health systems open to discrimination.

Manuel Ferreira, a researcher at genetics... see more