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Covid-19 May Force Epigenetic Changes Within Hosts

July 19, 2022

By Travis Decaminada

Key Takeaways:

  • Epigenetics refers to the study of how environmental factors influence how a person’s genes express themselves.
  • Detrimental epigenetic changes can result in a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, cancers, diabetes, schizophrenia, and more.
  • Some viruses are capable of forcing epigenetic changes within their hosts, in some cases weakening their immune system and thus allowing germs to more easily survive and replicate.
  • Now, new research has linked Covid-19 with a number of epigenetic changes ranging from multi-inflammatory syndrome in children to a loss of one’s sense of smell.
  • Some of these epigenetic changes may result in serious complications and may also explain why a small percentage of children infected with Covid-19 suffer from drastically different outcomes than their peers.

Epigenetics can be an intimidating subject, especially for those not working in biology, health, pharmaceuticals, or related industries. In short, epigenetics is the study of how a person’s behavior and environment can alter how their (or their children’s) genes express themselves.1 According to other public health experts:

Gene expression refers to how often or when proteins are created from the instructions within your genes. While genetic changes can alter which protein is made, epigenetic changes affect gene expression to turn genes “on” and “off.” Since your environment and behaviors, such as diet and exercise, can result in epigenetic changes, it is easy to see the connection between your genes and your behaviors and environment.2

Epigenetic changes do not permanently alter one’s DNA and in some cases may be reversed, though they can lead to serious health problems.3 Some examples of detrimental epigenetic changes include:

  • Some bacteria and viruses may force epigenetic changes within their hosts to help the germ survive. In some instances, these changes may also result in a victim suffering a significantly more severe reaction than is typically expected.4
  • Some epigenetic changes have been linked with an increased risk of cancer including breast and colorectal cancers.5
  • The environment and behavior of pregnant mothers may cause epigenetic changes within their children. For example, the offspring of mothers who were pregnant during a famine were found to be more likely to develop certain diseases such as heart disease, schizophrenia, and type 2 diabetes later in life.6

There is also evidence to support that epigenetic changes can be transmitted across multiple generations and may even play a role in evolution – though more research is needed to fully understand such mechanisms.7

Epigenetics and Covid-19

Concerningly, Covid-19 may very well be one of the aforementioned viruses capable of forcing epigenetic changes within their hosts. Researchers recently identified a link between multi-inflammatory syndrome in children and epigenetic changes to a set of immune-controlling genes resulting from a Covid-19 infection.8 These findings may provide insight as to why a small number of children infected with Covid-19 suffer extremely serious complications whereas the majority of children seem relatively resistant to the virus.9

The same response may also occur in adults, with some experts asserting that Covid-19 is a multi-organ aggressor capable of forcing a number of epigenetic changes within its host. Of note, research has also linked a loss of a sense of smell (anosmia) after a Covid-19 infection with epigenetic changes.
Ultimately, further research into epigenetics and Covid-19 could lead to the development of new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent further Covid-19 infections, and potentially other diseases.

See Also:

Related Posts:

  1. CDC – “What is Epigenetics?” https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm
  2. IBID
  3. IBID
  4. IBID
  5. IBID
  6. IBID
  7. Frontiers – “Epigenetic Inheritance: Concepts, Mechanisms and Perspectives”. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnmol.2018.00292/full
  8. AAAS – “Discovered epigenetic alterations associated with the COVID-19 related severe inflammatory syndrome in childhood”. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/957110
  9. IBID
  10. Medical Life Sciences – “Epigenome-wide DNA methylation patterns in convalescent COVID-19 subjects”. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20220629/Epigenome-wide-DNA-methylation-patterns-in-convalescent-COVID-19-subjects.aspx
  11. IBID

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