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Susceptibility to infection such as SARS-CoV-2 may be influenced by host genotype. TwinsUK volunteers (n = 3261) completing the C-19 COVID-19 symptom tracker app allowed classical twin studies of COVID-19 symptoms, including predicted COVID-19, a symptom-based algorithm to predict true infection, derived from app users tested for SARS-CoV-2. We found heritability of 49% (32−64%) for delirium; 34% (20−47%) for diarrhea; 31% (8−52%) for fatigue; 19% (0−38%) for anosmia; 46% (31−60%) for skipped meals and 31% (11−48%) for predicted COVID-19. Heritability estimates were not affected by cohabiting or by social deprivation. The results suggest the importance of host genetics in the risk of clinical manifestations of COVID-19 and provide grounds for planning genome-wide association studies to establish specific genes involved in viral infectivity and the host immune response.
A healthy diet is associated with the improvement or maintenance of health parameters, and several indices have been proposed to assess diet quality comprehensively. Twin studies have found that some specific foods, nutrients and food patterns have a heritable component; however, the heritability of overall dietary intake has not yet been estimated. Here, we compute heritability estimates of the nine most common dietary indices utilized in nutritional epidemiology. We analyzed 2590 female twins from TwinsUK (653 monozygotic [MZ] and 642 dizygotic [DZ] pairs) who completed a 131-item food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Heritability estimates were computed using structural equation models (SEM) adjusting for body mass index (BMI), smoking status, Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), physical activity, menopausal status, energy and alcohol intake. The AE model was the best-fitting model for most of the analyzed dietary scores (seven out of nine), with heritability estimates ranging from 10.1% (95% CI [.02, .18]) for the Dietary Reference Values (DRV) to 42.7% (95% CI [.36, .49]) for the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (A-HEI). The ACE model was the best-fitting model for the Healthy Diet Indicator (HDI) and Healthy Eating Index 2010 (HEI-2010) with heritability estimates of 5.4% (95% CI [−.17, .28]) and 25.4% (95% CI [.05, .46]), respectively. Here, we find that all analyzed dietary indices have a heritable component, suggesting that there is a genetic predisposition regulating what you eat. Future studies should explore genes underlying dietary indices to further understand the genetic disposition toward diet-related health parameters.
CVD is the leading cause of death worldwide and, after dementia, is the second biggest cause of death for women. In England, it accounts for one in four of all deaths. Lifestyle modifications represent the primary route both to reduce CVD risk factors and prevent CVD outcomes. Diet constitutes one of the key modifiable risk factors in the aetiology of CVD. We investigated the relationship between nine main dietary indices and a comprehensive range of CVD risk factors in 2590 women from TwinsUK. After adjustment for multiple testing, we found that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was inversely correlated with some of the most common CVD risk factors (BMI, visceral fat (VF), TAG, insulin, homoeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA2-IR) and atherosclerotic CVD (ASCVD) risk) with PFDR ranging from 6·28 × 10−7 to 5·63 × 10−4. Similar association patterns were detected across most of the dietary indices analysed. In our post hoc investigation, to determine if any specific food groups were driving associations between the DASH score and markers of cardiometabolic risk, we found that increased BMI, VF, HOMA2-IR, ASCVD risk, insulin and TAG levels were directly correlated with red meat consumption (PFDR ranging from 4·65 × 10−9 to 7·98 × 10−3) and inversely correlated with whole-grain cereal consumption (PFDR ranging from 1·26 × 10−6 to 8·28 × 10−3). Our findings revealed that the DASH diet is associated with a more favourable CVD risk profile, suggesting that this diet may be a candidate dietary pattern to supplement current UK dietary recommendations for CVD prevention.
TwinsUK is the largest cohort of community-dwelling adult twins in the UK. The registry comprises over 14,000 volunteer twins (14,838 including mixed, single and triplets); it is predominantly female (82%) and middle-aged (mean age 59). In addition, over 1800 parents and siblings of twins are registered volunteers. During the last 27 years, TwinsUK has collected numerous questionnaire responses, physical/cognitive measures and biological measures on over 8500 subjects. Data were collected alongside four comprehensive phenotyping clinical visits to the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London. Such collection methods have resulted in very detailed longitudinal clinical, biochemical, behavioral, dietary and socioeconomic cohort characterization; it provides a multidisciplinary platform for the study of complex disease during the adult life course, including the process of healthy aging. The major strength of TwinsUK is the availability of several ‘omic’ technologies for a range of sample types from participants, which includes genomewide scans of single-nucleotide variants, next-generation sequencing, metabolomic profiles, microbiomics, exome sequencing, epigenetic markers, gene expression arrays, RNA sequencing and telomere length measures. TwinsUK facilitates and actively encourages sharing the ‘TwinsUK’ resource with the scientific community — interested researchers may request data via the TwinsUK website (http://twinsuk.ac.uk/resources-for-researchers/access-our-data/) for their own use or future collaboration with the study team. In addition, further cohort data collection is planned via the Wellcome Open Research gateway (https://wellcomeopenresearch.org/gateways). The current article presents an up-to-date report on the application of technological advances, new study procedures in the cohort and future direction of TwinsUK.
Metabolomic and microbiome profiling are promising tools to identify biomarkers of food intake and health status. The individual's genetic makeup plays a significant role on health, metabolism, gut microbes and diet and twin studies provide unique opportunities to untangle gene–environment effects on complex phenotypes. This brief review discusses the value of twin studies in nutrition research with a particular focus on metabolomics and the gut microbiome. Although, the twin model is a powerful tool to segregate the genetic component, to date, very few studies combine the twin design and metabolomics/microbiome in nutritional sciences. Moreover, since the individual's diet has a strong influence on the microbiome composition and the gut microbiome is modifiable (60 % of microbiome diversity is due to the environment), future studies should target the microbiome via dietary interventions.
Food liking-disliking patterns may strongly influence food choices and health. Here we assess: (1) whether food preference patterns are genetic/environmentally driven; and (2) the relationship between metabolomics profiles and food preference patterns in a large population of twins. 2,107 individuals from TwinsUK completed an online food and lifestyle preference questionnaire. Principle components analysis was undertaken to identify patterns of food liking-disliking. Heritability estimates for each liking pattern were obtained by structural equation modeling. The correlation between blood metabolomics profiles (280 metabolites) and each food liking pattern was assessed in a subset of 1,491 individuals and replicated in an independent subset of monozygotic twin pairs discordant for the liking pattern (65 to 88 pairs). Results from both analyses were meta-analyzed. Four major food-liking patterns were identified (Fruit and Vegetable, Distinctive Tastes, Sweet and High Carbohydrate, and Meat) accounting for 26% of the total variance. All patterns were moderately heritable (Fruit and Vegetable, h2[95% CI]: 0.36 [0.28; 0.44]; Distinctive Tastes: 0.58 [0.52; 0.64]; Sweet and High Carbohydrate: 0.52 [0.45, 0.59] and Meat: 0.44 [0.35; 0.51]), indicating genetic factors influence food liking-disliking. Overall, we identified 14 significant metabolite associations (Bonferroni p < 4.5 × 10−5) with Distinctive Tastes (8 metabolites), Sweet and High Carbohydrate (3 metabolites), and Meat (3 metabolites). Food preferences follow patterns based on similar taste and nutrient characteristics and these groupings are strongly determined by genetics. Food preferences that are strongly genetically determined (h2 ≥ 0.40), such as for meat and distinctive-tasting foods, may influence intakes more substantially, as demonstrated by the metabolomic associations identified here.
Investigations into the genetic architecture of diet–disease relationships are particularly relevant today with the global epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. Twin studies have demonstrated that genetic makeup plays a significant role in a multitude of dietary phenotypes such as energy and macronutrient intakes, dietary patterns, and specific food group intakes. Besides estimating heritability of dietary assessment, twins provide a naturally unique, case–control experiment. Due to their shared upbringing, matched genes and sex (in the case of monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs), and age, twins provide many advantages over classic epidemiological approaches. Future genetic epidemiological studies could benefit from the twin approach particularly where defining what is ‘normal’ is problematic due to the high inter-individual variability underlying metabolism. Here, we discuss the use of twins to generate heritability estimates of food intake phenotypes. We then highlight the value of discordant MZ pairs to further nutrition research through discovery and validation of biomarkers of intake and health status in collaboration with cutting-edge omics technologies.
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