Isolated populations in India vulnerable to Covid-19, says study

Isolated populations in India are vulnerable to Covid-19, says a joint study by researchers from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), the Banaras Hindu University and some other universities.

The researchers called for high priority protection and utmost care for the isolated populations in the light of this study.

Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj from the CSIR-CCMB, who is presently director of the CDFD, Hyderabad, and Prof Gyaneshwer Chaubey of the BHU, jointly led the genomic analysis of several Indian populations.

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has impacted various ethnic groups all over the world. Recent studies suggest that the indigenous groups in Brazil have been massively affected by Covid-19.

The death rate was twice high among the indigenous communities of Brazil. It was also shown that many of the indigenous communities have reached the verge of extinction due to this pandemic.

India is home for several indigenous and smaller communities including Andaman Islanders, who are living in isolation for tens of thousands of years. The study found that populations that carry similar long DNA segments (homozygous) in their genome are most likely to be more susceptible to Covid-19.

The research has been published online recently in the journal ‘Genes and Immunity’. Dr Thangaraj, who traced the origin of Andaman Islanders, said: “We have investigated a highdensity genomic data of >1,600 individuals from 227 ethnic populations. We found high frequency of contiguous lengths of homozygous genes among Onge, Jarawa (Andaman Tribes) and a few more populations who are in isolation and follow a strict endogamy, making them highly susceptible for Covid-19 infection.”

The researchers have also assessed the ACE2 gene variants, that make individuals susceptible for Covid-19. They found that the Jarawa and Onge populations have high frequency of these mutations. “There have been some speculations on the effect of Covid-19 among isolated populations. However, for the first time, we have used genomic data to access the risk of Covid-19 on the small and isolated populations,” said Prof Chaubey, Professor of Molecular Anthropology at the BHU.

“Results obtained from this study suggest that we need to have a high priority protection and utmost care for the isolated populations, so that we don’t lose some of the living treasures of modern human evolution,” said Dr Vinay Kumar Nandicoori, Director, CCMB, Hyderabad.

Other participants of this study include Prajjval Pratap Singh, Prof V.N. Mishra, Prof Royana Singh and Dr Abhishek Pathak from the BHU, Dr Prashanth Suravajhala from Amrita University, Kerala, Pratheusa Machha from CSIR-CCMB, Hyderabad, Dr Rakesh Tamang from Calcutta University, Dr Ashutosh K. Rai from Saudi Arabia, Dr Pankaj Shrivastava from FSL MP, and Prof Keshav K. Singh from University of Alabama (US) .