Hyderabad: In research done by Hyderabad-based CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), it was found that tribals/indigenous population of the Andaman and Nicobar islands are more susceptible to COVID-19.

The infection of 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 to several indigenous and smaller communities including Andaman Islanders, who have been living in isolation for tens of thousands of years. Recently, Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj from CSIR-CCMB, who is presently the director of CDFD, Hyderabad and Prof Gyaneshwer Chaubey of BHU, Varanasi, jointly led the genomic analysis of several Indian populations. They found that populations that carry similar long DNA segments (homozygous) in their genome are most likely to be 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 high-density genomic data of more than 1,600 individuals from 227 ethnic populations. We found a high frequency of contiguous lengths of homozygous genes among Onge, Jarawa (Andaman Tribes), and a few more populations who are in isolation and follow strict endogamy, making them highly susceptible for COVID-19 infection."

The researchers have also assessed the ACE2 gene variants that make individuals susceptible to 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 small and isolated populations," said Prof Chaubey.

"Results obtained from this study suggest that we need to have a high priority protection and utmost care for 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.

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