'Isolated populations in India vulnerable to Covid'

Isolated populations in India are vulnerable to Covid-19: Researchers

Results obtained from the study suggest that there is a need to have a high priority protection and utmost care for the isolated populations

Representative image. Credit: iStock photo

Researchers have found that the indigenous Andaman tribes of Onge Jarawa, who live in isolation and follow strict endogamy, are highly susceptible to the Covid-19 infection.

While the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection has affected several ethnic groups all over the world, recent studies have suggested that the indigenous groups in Brazil have been severely impacted by the coronavirus.

The death rate was twice among the indigenous communities in the South American nation, as compared to the general population there. It was also indicated that some of these indigenous communities have reached the verge of extinction due to the pandemic.

India is also home to several indigenous and small communities like the Andaman Islanders, who are living in isolation in remote islands for tens of thousands of years.

Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj from CSIR-CCMB, Hyderabad and Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Professor of Molecular Anthropology at BHU, Varanasi, have jointly led a genomic analysis of various Indian populations to assess their vulnerability.

The duo found that populations that carry similar long DNA segments (homozygous) in their genome are most likely to be more susceptible to Covid-19.

“We have investigated high-density genomic data of over 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 live in isolation and follow strict endogamy, making them highly susceptible for Covid-19 infection,” said Dr Thangaraj, who had earlier traced the origin of Andaman Islanders.

Endogamy is the custom of marrying within a community.

Dr Thangaraj’s 2005 study established that the Andaman Islanders are the first modern humans to have migrated out of Africa taking the southern coastal route about 65,000 years back.

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 a high frequency of these mutations.

“Though there have been no cases of Covid-19 infection among these tribes, given their vulnerability we have to ensure they are insulated from outside contact,” Dr Thangaraj, who is also the Director of the Hyderabad based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, told DH.

The research was recently published online in the journal Genes and Immunity.

“Results from the present study suggest the need to have a high priority protection and utmost care for such isolated populations so that we do not lose these living treasures of modern human evolution,” said Dr Vinay Kumar Nandicoori, director, CCMB.

Prajjval Pratap Singh, Prof VN Mishra, Prof Royana Singh and Dr Abhishek Pathak from BHU, Varanasi; Dr Prashanth Suravajhala from Amrita University, Kerala; Pratheusa Machha from CSIR-CCMB; 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 USA are other participants of the study.

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