Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a new study by Lude Franke and colleagues of the University of Groningen, Netherlands finds that some individuals weathered the stress of the pandemic better than others, in part, due to their genetics. The new study is publishing May 12th in the open-access journal PLOS Genetics.
How a person perceives their quality of life depends on a combination of factors that include the genes they inherited from their parents and their environment — a mix of nature and nurture. Studying genes related to quality of life can be complicated, but the COVID-19 pandemic allowed Franke and his colleagues to investigate how this stressful, worldwide event interacted with a person's genetics to affect their overall wellbeing. The team screened the genomes of more than 27,000 participants in the Netherlands who had donated genetic material to a biobank. Then they looked for connections between genetic variants and the participants' responses to a series of questionnaires about lifestyle and mental and physical health given over 10 months, starting in March 2020.
The researchers found that some individuals had a genetic tendency toward better wellbeing than others during the pandemic. Additionally, as the pandemic wore on, they found that genetic tendency had an increasingly powerful influence on how those people perceived their quality of life, potentially due to the social isolation required by strict COVID-19 containment measures. Moreover, the findings demonstrate that the contribution of genetics to complex traits like wellbeing can change over time.
Fellow author Robert Warmerdam adds, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of genetics on wellbeing in a time wherein we had to socially isolate ourselves. We found that it is during the first, stressful year of the pandemic that it is our nature that has gained relative impact on how we rate our lives.”
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Citation: Warmerdam CAR, Wiersma HH, Lanting P, Ani A, Lifelines Corona Research Initiative, Lifelines Cohort Study, et al. (2022) Increased genetic contribution to wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS Genet 18(5): e1010135. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1010135
Author Countries: Netherlands
Funding: see manuscript
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Competing interests: I have read the journal’s policy and the authors of this manuscript have the following competing interests: Author H. Marike Boezen was unable to confirm their authorship contributions. On their behalf, the corresponding author has reported their contributions to the best of their knowledge. The authors declare no further competing interests.