23andMe finds genetic link for COVID loss of smell

June 8, 2021

Researchers from consumer genetics and research company 23andMe have identified a new genetic variant they say is associated with COVID-19 induced loss of smell and taste.

By examining the differences in the genome between COVID-19 cases who did and did not experience loss of taste or smell, scientists identified an association on chromosome 4 near the olfactory genes UGT2A1 and UGT2A2. Using data from more than one million people who consented to participate in the company's COVID-19 study, researchers found that an individual with one copy of the variant is about 11.5 percent more likely to lose their sense of smell or taste if infected compared to someone with zero copies.

The findings are published in a preprint released on medRxiv

The researchers also found the frequency of the risk allele is most commonly observed in individuals of European ancestry (37 percent) and least commonly observed in individuals of East Asian ancestry (19 percent). Researchers also found that among younger people with COVID-19 the loss of smell and taste was more common. Among those aged 26-35, 73 percent reported loss of smell, whereas only 43 percent reported loss of smell in those 85 or older. When the researchers looked at differences between men and women they found that women were more likely than men to report loss of smell or taste (72 percent versus 61 percent).