Super Genetics: Genes That Protect Against COVID-19 and More

By: Diana Brown & Sascha Bos  | 
super soldier
Could scientists be using gene manipulation to create superhuman soldiers of the future? Devrimb/Getty Images

Countless superhero movies have been released in the past decade, playing to our fascination with people with higher than usual abilities. But what if people really could have superpowers like those portrayed in the movies, thanks to the inheritance of so-called super genes? Welcome to the world of super genetics.



Many of these so-called human superpowers owe their "powers" to a genetic mutation, just like Spiderman. For example, a gene mutation caused a rare disorder called adermatoglyphia, which is when someone is actually born without fingerprints. Though it seems like it would be useful (to criminals at least) it's actually far from it.

About the only thing this inconvenient gene expression does is cause delays for non-U.S. residents at airport security when they try to enter the country. Regulations require all non-residents be fingerprinted when they enter the country. It's often even referred to as "immigration delay disease."


HIV Immunity

Another gene mutation that one might consider a superpower could have been caused by the black plague. It's one of many deadly diseases that killed hundreds of thousands in Europe during the Middle Ages.

But scientists now think it could have caused a mutation of the gene CCR5-A32 that left one in 10 Europeans immune to HIV. In fact, a healthy bone marrow donor with the CCR5-A32 mutation passed it on to an HIV positive leukemia patient, ultimately curing him of HIV.


Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2

Why do most people get so sick from COVID-19 while others have tested positive for the virus without experiencing symptoms? It turns out they may have a genetic superpower.

A study conducted by UC San Francisco researchers and published in the journal "Nature" in 2023 revealed that people who remained asymptomatic after infection were more likely to have a mutation that helped the immune system recognize the novel virus based on its similarity to seasonal colds.


About 10 percent of the population carries this "super gene," HLA-B*15:01, which gave T cells the ability to identify COVID-19 and carry out a rapid immune response even though they had never encountered this particular coronavirus, a phenomenon known as T-cell memory.

The study, conducted prior to the development of COVID-19 vaccines, identified individuals with the super gene through a bone marrow registry; they were able to track asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 through routine COVID testing.

Even with risk factors for severe COVID-19, some people with this genetic mutation remained asymptomatic. It's possible that this genetic research might lead to future development of medications or vaccines.


Gene Manipulation

Studying gene mutation can naturally lead scientists to gene manipulation — that's when they directly manipulate the genome using molecular engineering techniques. Scientists have been trying for decades to grow organs as a kind of backup for human parts or as a way to harvest stem cells.

And some, quite controversially, have tried creating animal-human hybrids like the humanzee in China, and have conducted studies to find out how long a sheep could carry a human fetus.



Experimentation with human biology hasn't been limited to a lab, either; plenty of people, called "biohackers," have taken it upon themselves to enhance natural human abilities. Some of this biohacking is limited to simple dieting fads like Bulletproof coffee, but others have taken it to the surgical level, implanting magnets in their fingertips, for example.

Sounds like some crazy science fiction, but wetware — or human-implanted technology — isn't so strange. Technically, a pacemaker is wetware, and some might argue that even glasses count as wetware because they artificially boost your eyesight.


Governments, including the United States, China and Russia, have been particularly interested in wetware and gene mutations to enhance human abilities to create super-soldiers. These soldiers would have to be immune to pain, need no sleep, and have super-intellect, strength and stamina. They might also exhibit superpowers we've already seen in real people, like extra-fast reflexes.


Arnold, Carrie. "How Supergenes Fuel Evolution Despite Harmful Mutations." Quanta Magazine. Nov. 8, 2022. (Oct. 11, 2023).

Colliver, Victoria. "Gene Mutation May Explain Why Some Don’t Get Sick from COVID-19." University of California San Francisco. Jul. 19, 2023. (Oct. 11, 2023).

"Empowering People with ‘Super Genes’ to Help Unlock New Treatment Pathways." Pfizer. (Oct. 11, 2023).

Kerschan-Schindl K. Romosozumab: a novel bone anabolic treatment option for osteoporosis?. Romosozumab: eine neue Therapieoption bei Osteoporose mit anaboler Wirkung auf den Knochen. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2020;170(5-6):124-131. doi:10.1007/s10354-019-00721-5

Wu, Katherine. "Could Genetics Be the Key to Never Getting the Coronavirus?" The Atlantic. Jul. 25, 2022. (Oct. 11, 2023).


Super Genetics FAQ

What are supergenes?
In genetics, supergenes are tightly linked genes that get inherited as a set to suppress recombination. Many people also use the term "super genes" to refer to genes responsible for "superpowers" like promoting immune protection.
What is an example of a supergene?
One example of a supergene in theoretical genetics is the genetic polymorphism found in butterfly species exhibiting Batesian mimicry. In order to mimic the physical traits of other species, tight linkage between genes is necessary to reduce recombination of genes. Imagine losing one piece of a disguise — it can ruin the entire effect!