Scientists at the University of Oxford have identified a gene that has the potential to double the possibility of lung failure and death due to Covid-19 among people of South Asian origin, a study published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics on Thursday has found.

The gene, LZTFL1, may explain why people of South Asian descent are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, according to scientists.

However, the researchers pointed out that inoculation against Covid-19 is very important for communities that are at increased risk of developing a serious infection due to the gene. The threat of a severe infection can be combatted through immunisation, the study said, according to PTI.

The scientists said that 60% of people with South Asian ancestry had the risky gene when compared to 15% of people with European ancestors. The gene was present in only 2% of people of African-Caribbean descent and 1.8% of people of East Asian descent.

The researchers used machine learning and molecular biology to study the gene.

LZTFL1 impedes a protective mechanism that cells lining the lungs use to defend themselves from the SARS-Cov-2 virus, that causes Covid-19, PTI quoted the researchers as saying.

The protective mechanism of these cells against the coronavirus is to turn into less specialised cells, making it more difficult for the virus to infect them. When this process takes place, the cells have fewer ACE2 receptors, which SARS-Cov-2 uses to attach itself to cells.

Among people who have the LZTFL1 gene, this process does not work as well as among others. This makes the lung cells of those with the gene more vulnerable to Covid-19, according to PTI.

Lead researcher James Davies noted that several factors, particularly age, contribute to every person’s individual risk from the disease, the BBC reported.

“Socio-economic factors were also likely to be important in explaining why some communities have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” he added.

Davies told the BBC that the study shows that people with the LZTFL1 gene can particularly benefit from vaccination.

The researcher added that the findings point to the possibility of treatments through the response of the lung cells, The Guardian reported. At present, most treatments seek to change the way in which the immune systems reacts to the coronavirus.

In India, shortages of medical oxygen have also been linked to several Covid-19 deaths, particularly during the devastating second wave of the disease in April and May.