The wings of a “genetic bird” protect us against viruses

Modelling of HLA-peptide bindings forming the two wings of a bird in flight.

Do populations from different geographic regions have the same potential for defending themselves against pathogens and against viruses in particular? An analysis of human genomes, especially the HLA genes responsible for the so-called “adaptive” immune system, provide some possible answers to this question. These genes, which vary enormously between individuals, code for molecules capable of recognising the different viruses so they can trigger the appropriate immune response.

Alicia Sanchez-Mazas‘s group, partnering with Cambridge University, has identified the HLA variants that bind to families of viruses most effectively. Their study show that, in spite of the great heterogeneity of HLA variants in individuals, all populations benefit from an equivalent potential when it comes to virus protection.

The article was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, on December 15th, 2020.

Press release from UNIGE.