A recent research has indicated that isolated populations of indigenous communities in India, like the Onge and Jarawa tribes on the Andaman Islands, are under serious threat from COVID-19. Scientists have recommended that the protection of these tribes should be given a high priority. Not doing so could threaten the existence of these indigenous tribes that have been living in isolation for tens of thousands of years.
The infection of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has impacted various ethnic groups all over the world. Recent studies suggest that the indigenous groups in Brazil have been badly hit by COVID-19.
The death rate among the indigenous communities of Brazil was nearly double the global rate. Many of the indigenous communities are on the verge of extinction due to the pandemic.
India is home to several indigenous and smaller communities including Andaman Islanders.
Recently, Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj from CSIR-CCMB, who is presently Director of CDFD, Hyderabad and Prof Gyaneshwer Chaubey of BHU, Varanasi, jointly led the genomic analysis of several Indian populations.
They found that populations that carry similar long DNA segments (homozygous) in their genome are most likely to be more susceptible to COVID-19. The research has been published online recently in the journal Genes and Immunity.
Dr Thangaraj, who traced the origin of Andaman Islanders, said, “We have investigated a high-density genomic data of more than 1600 individuals from 227 ethnic populations. We found high frequency of contiguous lengths of homozygous genes among Onge, Jarawa (Andaman Tribes) and a few more populations who are in isolation and follow a strict endogamy, making them highly susceptible for COVID-19 infection”.
The researchers also found that the Jarawa and Onge populations have a high frequency of ACE2 gene variants. The mutation makes humans more susceptible to Covid.
“There have been some speculations on the effect of COVID-19 among isolated populations. However, for the first time, we have used genomic data to access the risk of COVID-19 on the small and isolated populations”, said Prof Chaubey, Professor of Molecular Anthropology at BHU, Varanasi.
“Results obtained from this study suggest that we need to have a high priority protection and utmost care for the isolated populations, so that we don’t lose some of the living treasures of modern human evolution”, said Dr. Vinay Kumar Nandicoori, Director, CCMB, Hyderabad.