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Current Affairs

Hidden gene in Coronavirus

Date: 16 November 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Researchers have discovered a new "hidden" gene in the novel coronavirus which may contribute to its unique biology and pandemic potential.

 

Background

Knowing more about the 15 genes that make up the coronavirus genome could have a significant impact on developing drugs and vaccines to combat the virus.

 

Details

  • The researchers described overlapping genes or "genes within genes" in the virus which they believe play a role in the replication of the virus within host cells.

  • The research team identified a new overlapping gene - ORF3d - in the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that has the potential to encode a protein that is longer than expected.

  • ORF3d is also present in a previously discovered pangolin coronavirus, indicating the gene may have undergone changes during the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses.

  • According to the study, ORF3d has been independently identified and shown to elicit a strong antibody response in COVID-19 patients, demonstrating that the protein produced from the new gene is manufactured during human infection.

  • Scientists predict this gene is relatively unlikely to be detected by a T-cell response, in contrast to the antibody response.

  • While overlapping genes are hard to spot, and most scientific computer programs are not designed to find them, the scientists said they are common in viruses.

  • This is partly because RNA viruses have a high mutation rate, so they tend to keep their gene count low to prevent a large number of mutations

  • In terms of genome size, SARS-CoV-2 and its relatives are among the longest RNA viruses that exist. They are thus perhaps more prone to 'genomic trickery' than other RNA viruses.

 

RNA viruses

  • An RNA virus is a virus that has RNA (ribonucleic acid) as its genetic material. This nucleic acid is usually single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) but may be double-stranded RNA (dsRNA).

  • Notable human diseases caused by RNA viruses include the common cold, influenza, SARS, MERS, COVID-19, Dengue Virus, hepatitis C, hepatitis E, West Nile fever, Ebola virus disease, rabies, polio, and measles.