Insights into Host and Viral Genetics of SARS-CoV-2 Discussed

Priya Duggal (Johns Hopkins) reviews GWAS summary data from a case study of severe COVID cases in Italy and Spain.Winston Timp uses a circular graph to identify new variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.Winston Timp (Johns Hopkins) responds to a question posed by session moderator Debashree Ray (Johns Hopkins).

In this COPSS-NISS hosted webinar, Dr. Priya Duggal (Johns Hopkins University) and Dr. Winston Timp (Johns Hopkins University) presented their latest research regarding their understandings of the role that both the host genetics as well as the genetics of the virus itself plays as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded. 

Priya Duggal (Johns Hopkins) began her talk by first addressing the questions, “Why consider genetics in the study of infectious disease?” and “What makes infectious diseases different?” This served as a wonderful segway into describing how host genetics play a vital role in our understanding of the pathogenesis of many diseases including COVID-19. Priya used a number of studies and examples to help describe work that analyzes the unique genetic underpinnings of hospitalized severe cases and ambulatory mild or asymptomatic cases as a means of understanding the role of host genetics in the severity of COVID-19 as well as associations with immunologic outcomes.

“If we can understand why people have different outcomes---we will better understand the immune response and eventually exploit this understanding for therapeutics and vaccines.”
Priya Duggal (Johns Hopkins)

Current developments in sequencing technology have allowed for an unprecedented look at the virus causing the current pandemic, SARS-CoV-2. Winston Timp (Johns Hopkins University) began by providing a detailed review of the genetic biology of viruses and in particular COVID-19. Leveraging work by the ARTIC network, Winston explained how a sequencing pipeline at Johns Hopkins has been set up to characterize the virus in the positive cases found in the Baltimore area.  Expanding the scope of data, he then walked through how the genetic sequencing information can be used to show the diversity and evolution of the virus as well as how the sequence information from the virus is used to rapidly design vaccines.

Moderator Dr. Debashree Ray (Johns Hopkins University) then presented the questions that had been building posted in the Zoom Q&A tool.  Both panelists responded to these live as well as with the Q&A interface itself, each from their own unique perspective.  Questions included, “How do the different variants react differently with the host?”, “Are there limitations to some of the GWAS studies you have been involved in that might prevent research moving forward?” and “How can we monitor emerging new variants?” among others. At the end of the session Debashree asked a final question that was posed by an attendee, “Are either the Moderna or Pfizer the best vaccine to get?”  Both Winston and Priya readily agreed that both vaccines were good, and to get “which ever one you can!”  Furthermore, Priya added that, “These vaccines are fantastic as what they were intended to do, which is keep you out of the hospital.  We don’t know a lot about transmission so that is why masking and social distancing are things that we will continue to have to do.” 

Want to learn more?  Mark your calendar for every 1st and 3rd Thursday from noon to 1 pm ET.  (See the NISS website for event details and to register for these sessions!) 

Below, please find a recording of this session along with a link to the slides that the speakers used. The slides not only provide you with the key points that were offered but also include links to additional resources that should not be ignored!

Recording of the Session

Slides used by the Speakers

Priya Duggal, (Johns Hopkins University)

Host Genetics and COVID-19

Winston Timp, (Johns Hopkins University)

Rapid Sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 to enable Epidemiologic Surveillance, Clinical Insight, and Pathobiology

About this Webinar Series

The COPSS-NISS COVID-19 Data Science webinar series is co-organized by the Committee of the Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS) and its five charter member societies (ASA, ENAR, IMS, SSC, and WNAR), as well as NISS.  This bi-monthly webinar features the latest research that is positioned on the cusp of new understanding and analysis of COVID-19 pandemic data, and promotes data-driven research and decision making to combat COVID-19.  Find out more about this series and view all the previous sessions on the Webinar Series page.

Monday, February 8, 2021 by Glenn Johnson