COVID-19 research risks ignoring important host genes due to pre-established research patterns

Elife. 2020 Nov 24;9:e61981. doi: 10.7554/eLife.61981.


It is known that research into human genes is heavily skewed towards genes that have been widely studied for decades, including many genes that were being studied before the productive phase of the Human Genome Project. This means that the genes most frequently investigated by the research community tend to be only marginally more important to human physiology and disease than a random selection of genes. Based on an analysis of 10,395 research publications about SARS-CoV-2 that mention at least one human gene, we report here that the COVID-19 literature up to mid-October 2020 follows a similar pattern. This means that a large number of host genes that have been implicated in SARS-CoV-2 infection by four genome-wide studies remain unstudied. While quantifying the consequences of this neglect is not possible, they could be significant.

Keywords: COVID-19; bias; computational biology; human; human genetics; infectious disease; meta-research; meta-science; microbiology; scientific literature; systems biology; virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / genetics*
  • COVID-19 / metabolism
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Gene Ontology
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Host Microbial Interactions / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Publications
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.11961063.v34