Some individuals managed the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic better than others, in part, due to their genetics, according to a new study published in Plos Genetics.

How a person perceives their quality of life depends on a combination of factors that include the genes they inherited from their parents and their environment, researchers say. Studying genes related to quality of life can be complicated, but the COVID-19 pandemic allowed researchers to investigate how this stressful, worldwide event interacted with a person’s genetics to affect their overall wellbeing.

The team screened the genomes of more than 27,000 participants in the Netherlands who had donated genetic material to a biobank. Then they looked for connections between genetic variants and the participants’ responses to a series of questionnaires about lifestyle and mental and physical health given over 10 months, starting in March 2020.

The researchers found that some individuals had a genetic tendency toward better wellbeing than others during the pandemic. Additionally, as the pandemic wore on, they found that genetic tendency had an increasingly powerful influence on how those people perceived their quality of life, potentially due to the social isolation required by strict COVID-19 containment measures. Moreover, the findings demonstrate that the contribution of genetics to complex traits like wellbeing can change over time.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of genetics on wellbeing in a time wherein we had to socially isolate ourselves. We found that it is during the first, stressful year of the pandemic that it is our nature that has gained relative impact on how we rate our lives,” said Robert Warmerdam of the University of Groningen, Netherlands.

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