A study that was published in the last week found that a mutation found in COVID-19 mirrors the same mutation in the SARS virus in 2003, which could mean there is a possibility that the virus could offer clues to how the virus makes people ill. Lead study author Dr. Efren Lim, an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, explained that if a virus adds mutations it can lose strength, which happened to the SARS virus as it progressed, although there is no evidence that the coronavirus is losing strength.
Lim’s team utilized next-generation sequencing to ascertain the genetic code of the coronavirus, as Fox News reported. The New York Postadded, “Out of the 382 nasal swab samples the researchers examined from coronavirus patients in the state, a single sample was missing a significant chunk of its genome. Eighty-one of the letters were permanently deleted, according to the new study published in the Journal of Virology.”
Arizona State University explained, “In the case of the 81-base pair mutation, because it has never been found before in the GISAID database, it could also provide a clue into how the virus makes people sick. It could also form a new starting point for other scientists to develop antiviral drugs or formulate new vaccines …”
Lim told The Daily Mail, “This is something we’ve seen before in the 2003 SARS outbreak during the middle and late phase of the outbreak; the virus acquired large deletions in these SS3 proteins. These proteins are not just there to replicate – they are in there to help enhance virulence and suppress the immune system [of the host]. It evolved with a more attenuated form in the late phase of the epidemic. Where the deletion occurs in the genome is pretty meaningful because it’s a known immune protein which means it counteracts the host’s antiviral response.”
He added of the 16,000 coronavirus genomes that have been sequenced so far, “Sixteen thousand sequences is less than half a percent of what’s out there – this is a drop in the bucket. One sample is the convincing thing we need to say ‘look at this,’ meaning that if more coronavirus genomes are sequenced, scientists might find far more instances of this attenuated genome.”
Study co-author Matthew Scotch cautioned, “The takeaway is that one virus had a large deletion which demonstrates that it is possible for the virus to transmit without having complete portions of its genetic material. This was one virus and we do not suggest that this means a ‘weakening’ of any kind.”
The study stated:
Out of 382 NP swabs collected from January 24 to March 25, 2020, we detected SARS-CoV-2 in 5 swabs in the week of March 16 to 19. This corresponds to prevalence of 1.31%. Given the estimated 1 – 14-day incubation period for COVID-19, the spike in cases might be related to university spring-break holiday travel (March 8 – 15) as previously seen in other outbreaks.
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