The research was the largest-ever genome-wide association study.
The study, which was recently published in the journal Nature, is the largest genome-wide association study ever conducted, using the <span class=”glossaryLink” aria-describedby=”tt” data-cmtooltip=”
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”]”>DNA of nearly 5 million individuals from 281 contributing studies. It fills a significant gap in our knowledge of how genetic differences contribute to height differences. Over one million research participants are of non-European heritage (African, East Asian, Hispanic, or South Asian).
The 12,111 variants that cluster around areas of the genome involved with skeletal growth offer a strong genetic predictor of height. For people of European ancestry, the identified variants account for 40% of the variance in height, and for those of non-European ancestry, 10–20%.
Adult height is mostly determined by the information encoded in our DNA; children of tall parents are likely to be taller, while children of short parents tend to be shorter, although these estimations aren’t perfect. The development of a small baby into an adult, as well as the role of genetics in this process, has long been a complicated and poorly understood aspect of human biology. The previous largest genome-wide association study on height employed a sample size of up to 700,000 people; the current sample is around seven times larger than earlier studies.
The study, which is being conducted at a scale never before seen, offers new levels of biological detail and understanding of why individuals are tall or short, with heredity being connected to various specific genomic regions. The results demonstrate that regions comprising just over 20% of the genome contain the majority of the gene variants linked to height.
The study’s findings could help doctors identify people who cannot reach their genetically predicted height, which may aid in the diagnosis of hidden diseases or conditions that may be stunting their growth or impacting their health. The research also provides a valuable blueprint on how it could be possible to use genome-wide studies to identify a disease’s biology and subsequently its hereditary components.
Greater genomic diversity needed
While this study has a large number of participants from non-European ancestries compared to previous studies, the researchers emphasize the need for more diversity in genomic research.
Most of the genetic data available are from people of European ancestry, so genome-wide studies don’t capture the wide range of ancestral diversity across the globe. Increasing the size of genome-wide studies in non-European ancestry populations is essential to achieve the same saturation level and close the gap in prediction <span class=”glossaryLink” aria-describedby=”tt” data-cmtooltip=”
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”]”>accuracy in different populations.
Dr. Eirini Marouli, a co-first author of the study and Senior Lecturer in Computational Biology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We have accomplished a feat in studying the DNA of over 5 million people that was broadly considered impossible until recently.”
She continues, “Genomic studies are revolutionary and might hold the key to solving many global health challenges – their potential is tremendously exciting. If we can get a clear picture of a trait such as height at a genomic level, we may then have the model to better diagnose and treat gene-influenced conditions like heart disease or schizophrenia, for example. If we can map specific parts of the genome to certain traits, it opens the door to widespread targeted, personalized treatments further down the line that could benefit people everywhere.”
Reference: “A saturated map of common genetic variants associated with human height” by Loïc Yengo, Sailaja Vedantam, Eirini Marouli, Julia Sidorenko, Eric Bartell, Saori Sakaue, Marielisa Graff, Anders U. Eliasen, Yunxuan Jiang, Sridharan Raghavan, Jenkai Miao, Joshua D. Arias, Sarah E. Graham, Ronen E. Mukamel, Cassandra N. Spracklen, Xianyong Yin, Shyh-Huei Chen, Teresa Ferreira, Heather H. Highland, Yingjie Ji, Tugce Karaderi, Kuang Lin, Kreete Lüll, Deborah E. Malden, Carolina Medina-Gomez, Moara Machado, Amy Moore, Sina Rüeger, Xueling Sim, Scott Vrieze, Tarunveer S. Ahluwalia, Masato Akiyama, Matthew A. Allison, Marcus Alvarez, Mette K. Andersen, Alireza Ani, Vivek Appadurai, Liubov Arbeeva, Seema Bhaskar, Lawrence F. Bielak, Sailalitha Bollepalli, Lori L. Bonnycastle, Jette Bork-Jensen, Jonathan P. Bradfield, Yuki Bradford, Peter S. Braund, Jennifer A. Brody, Kristoffer S. Burgdorf, Brian E. Cade, Hui Cai, Qiuyin Cai, Archie Campbell, Marisa Cañadas-Garre, Eulalia Catamo, Jin-Fang Chai, Xiaoran Chai, Li-Ching Chang, Yi-Cheng Chang, Chien-Hsiun Chen, Alessandra Chesi, Seung Hoan Choi, Ren-Hua Chung, Massimiliano Cocca, Maria Pina Concas, Christian Couture, Gabriel Cuellar-Partida, Rebecca Danning, E. Warwick Daw, Frauke Degenhard, Graciela E. Delgado, Alessandro Delitala, Ayse Demirkan, Xuan Deng, Poornima Devineni, Alexander Dietl, Maria Dimitriou, Latchezar Dimitrov, Rajkumar Dorajoo, Arif B. Ekici, Jorgen E. Engmann, Zammy Fairhurst-Hunter, Aliki-Eleni Farmaki, Jessica D. Faul, Juan-Carlos Fernandez-Lopez, Lukas Forer, Margherita Francescatto, Sandra Freitag-Wolf, Christian Fuchsberger, Tessel E. Galesloot, Yan Gao, Zishan Gao, Frank Geller, Olga Giannakopoulou, Franco Giulianini, Anette P. Gjesing, Anuj Goel, Scott D. Gordon, Mathias Gorski, Jakob Grove, Xiuqing Guo, Stefan Gustafsson, Jeffrey Haessler, Thomas F. Hansen, Aki S. Havulinna, Simon J. Haworth, Jing He, Nancy Heard-Costa, Prashantha Hebbar, George Hindy, Yuk-Lam A. Ho, Edith Hofer, Elizabeth Holliday, Katrin Horn, Whitney E. Hornsby, Jouke-Jan Hottenga, Hongyan Huang, Jie Huang, Alicia Huerta-Chagoya, Jennifer E. Huffman, Yi-Jen Hung, Shaofeng Huo, Mi Yeong Hwang, Hiroyuki Iha, Daisuke D. Ikeda, Masato Isono, Anne U. Jackson, Susanne Jäger, Iris E. Jansen, Ingegerd Johansson, Jost B. Jonas, Anna Jonsson, Torben Jørgensen, Ioanna-Panagiota Kalafati, Masahiro Kanai, Stavroula Kanoni, Line L. Kårhus, Anuradhani Kasturiratne, Tomohiro Katsuya, Takahisa Kawaguchi, Rachel L. Kember, Katherine A. Kentistou, Han-Na Kim, Young Jin Kim, Marcus E. Kleber, Maria J. Knol, Azra Kurbasic, … Michael Boehnke, Panos Deloukas, Anne E. Justice, Cecilia M. Lindgren, Ruth J. F. Loos, Karen L. Mohlke, Kari E. North, Kari Stefansson, Robin G. Walters, Thomas W. Winkler, Kristin L. Young, Po-Ru Loh, Jian Yang, Tõnu Esko, Themistocles L. Assimes, Adam Auton, Goncalo R. Abecasis, Cristen J. Willer, Adam E. Locke, Sonja I. Berndt, Guillaume Lettre, Timothy M. Frayling, Yukinori Okada, Andrew R. Wood, Peter M. Visscher, and Joel N. Hirschhorn, 12 October 2022, Nature.
Flu shots are now free for everyone in Quebec due to overwhelmed hospital ERs
While the campaign for flu shots has already been underway in Quebec for several weeks, the provincial government announced on Friday that immunization will now be free of charge for any Quebecer over the age of six months.
Previously, only people who met certain criteria (babies, seniors, the chronically ill, etc) were able to get the influenza immunization free of charge, and the vaccination sites set up for COVID-19 were only handling free flu shots. Meanwhile, the general population in Quebec was previously only able to get vaccinated at pharmacies, for a fee.
The decision was made due to the critical state of hospital ERs in the province, particularly at children’s hospitals in Montreal, where kids are being brought in by parents in larger numbers than usual due to rising rates of flu, COVID-19 and RSV infections.
“With the trio of viruses currently circulating, the influenza vaccine is now available free of charge to all Quebecers who wish to take advantage of it. It’s one more tool to limit the pressure on our network.”
—Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé
To schedule an appointment for a flu shot and/or a COVID-19 shot, please visit the Clic Santé website.
Deadly Bird Flu Outbreak Is The Worst In U.S. History
An ongoing outbreak of a deadly strain of bird flu has now killed more birds than any past flare-up in U.S. history.
The virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, has led to the deaths of 50.54 million domestic birds in the country this year, according to Agriculture Department data reported by Reuters on Thursday. That figure represents birds like chickens, ducks and turkeys from commercial poultry farms, backyard flocks and facilities such as petting zoos.
The count surpasses the previous record of 50.5 million dead birds from a 2015 outbreak, according to Reuters.
Turkeys in a barn on a poultry farm.
On farms, some birds die from the flu directly, while in other cases, farmers kill their entire flocks to prevent the virus from spreading after one bird tests positive. Such farmers have occasionally drawn condemnation from animal welfare advocates for using a culling method known as “ventilation shutdown plus,” which involves sealing off the airways to a barn and pumping in heat to kill the animals.
The virus has raged through Europe and North America since 2021. A variety of wild birds have been affected worldwide, including bald eagles, vultures and seabirds. This month, Peru reported its first apparent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza after 200 dead pelicans were found on a beach.
Pelicans suspected to have died from highly pathogenic avian influenza are seen on a beach in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 24.
The migration of infected wild birds has been a major cause of the spread. Health and wildlife officials urge anyone who keeps domestic birds to prevent contact with their wild counterparts.
While health experts do not generally consider highly pathogenic avian influenza to be a major risk to mammals, a black bear cub in Alaska was euthanized earlier this month after contracting the virus. Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen told the Juneau Empire newspaper that the young cub had a weak immune system.
Over the summer, avian flu also spread among seals in Maine, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believed contributed to an unusually high number of seal deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the risk “to the general public” from the bird flu outbreak is low. However, the agency recommends precautions like wearing personal protective equipment and thoroughly washing hands for people who have prolonged contact with birds that may be infected.
In April, a Colorado prisoner working at a commercial farm became the first person in the U.S. to test positive for the new strain, though he was largely asymptomatic.
Successful tests in animal models pave way for strategy for universal flu vaccine
An experimental mRNA-based vaccine against all 20 known subtypes of influenza virus provided broad protection from otherwise lethal flu strains in initial tests, according to a study.
This could serve one day as a general preventative measure against future flu pandemics, the researchers from University of Pennsylvania, US, said.
According to the study, tests in animal models showed that the vaccine dramatically reduced signs of illness and protected from death, even when the animals were exposed to flu strains different from those used in making the vaccine.
The “multivalent” vaccine, which the researchers described in a paper published in the journal Science, used the same messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology employed in the Pfizer and Moderna SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the study said.
This mRNA technology that enabled those Covid-19 vaccines was pioneered at Penn, the study said.
“The idea here is to have a vaccine that will give people a baseline level of immune memory to diverse flu strains, so that there will be far less disease and death when the next flu pandemic occurs,” said study senior author Scott Hensley.
Influenza viruses periodically cause pandemics with enormous death tolls. The best known of these was the 1918-19 “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed at least tens of millions of people worldwide.
Flu viruses can circulate in birds, pigs, and other animals, and pandemics can start when one of these strains jumps to humans and acquires mutations that adapt it better for spreading among humans.
Current flu vaccines are merely “seasonal” vaccines that protect against recently circulating strains, but would not be expected to protect against new, pandemic strains. The strategy employed by the Penn researchers is to vaccinate using immunogens – a type of antigen that stimulates immune responses – from all known influenza subtypes in order to elicit broad protection, the study said.
The vaccine is not expected to provide “sterilizing” immunity that completely prevents viral infections. Instead, the new study showed that the vaccine elicited a memory immune response that can be quickly recalled and adapted to new pandemic viral strains, significantly reducing severe illness and death from infections.
“It would be comparable to first-generation SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccines, which were targeted to the original Wuhan strain of the coronavirus.
“Against later variants such as Omicron, these original vaccines did not fully block viral infections, but they continue to provide durable protection against severe disease and death,” said Hensley.
The experimental vaccine, when injected and taken up by the cells of recipients, started producing copies of a key flu virus protein, the hemagglutinin protein, for all twenty influenza hemagglutinin subtypes—H1 through H18 for influenza A viruses, and two more for influenza B viruses.
“For a conventional vaccine, immunizing against all these subtypes would be a major challenge, but with mRNA technology it’s relatively easy,” Hensley said.
In mice, the mRNA vaccine elicited high levels of antibodies, which stayed elevated for at least four months, and reacted strongly to all 20 flu subtypes. Moreover, the vaccine seemed relatively unaffected by prior influenza virus exposures, which can skew immune responses to conventional influenza vaccines.
The researchers observed that the antibody response in the mice was strong and broad, whether or not the animals had been exposed to flu virus before.
Hensley and his colleagues currently are designing human clinical trials, he said. The researchers envision that, if those trials are successful, the vaccine may be useful for eliciting long-term immune memory against all influenza subtypes in people of all age groups, including young children.
“We think this vaccine could significantly reduce the chances of ever getting a severe flu infection,” Hensley said.
In principle, he added, the same multivalent mRNA strategy can be used for other viruses with pandemic potential, including coronaviruses.
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