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Current Affairs

Mutations in genetic code of coronavirus

Date: 22 October 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

 Researchers have identified a number of “silent” mutations in the coronavirus’ genetic code that helped it thrive after it crossed over to humans.

 

Background

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 lived harmlessly in bats and other animals.

 

Details

  • The researchers developed statistical methods to identify adaptive changes that arose in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in humans, but not in closely related coronaviruses found in bats and pangolins. 

  • The study flagged mutations that altered the spike proteins, suggesting that viral strains carrying these mutations were more likely to thrive.

  • It also identified additional culprits in two other regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, dubbed Nsp4 and Nsp16. These appear to have given the virus a biological edge over previous strains without altering the proteins they encode.

  • Nsp4 and Nsp16 are among the first RNA molecules that are produced when the virus infects a new person.

  • The spike protein doesn’t get expressed until later. So they could make a better therapeutic target because they appear earlier in the viral life cycle.

  • Instead of affecting proteins, the changes likely affected how the virus’s genetic material folds up into 3-D shapes and functions inside human cells.

  • By pinpointing the genetic changes that enabled the new coronavirus to thrive in human hosts, scientists hope to better predict future zoonotic disease outbreaks before they happen.