Saturday, June 13, 2020

A mutation shows why the coronavirus is such a formidable foe

Opinion by William A. Haseltine

 (CNN) - All living organisms mutate and adapt to maximize survival in their ecologic niche. For months, scientists have been looking into whether the novel coronavirus -- known as SARS-CoV-2 -- is mutating and becoming more transmissible or more lethal. Recent evidence points to a preliminary answer to half the question: yes, a study has found that the virus has mutated and the dominant strain today is now capable of infecting more human cells. But the scientists say more research is needed to show whether this changed the course of the pandemic, and it remains unclear whether this mutation is more lethal.

Almost immediately after the outbreak emerged, researchers began looking for patterns of change among the tens of thousands of viral genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2. The search was made possible thanks to the willingness of researchers around the world to upload their data to a common database. The data is open source, meaning anyone with a computer can access and analyze the data.

The alert that a change in the genome of SARS-CoV-2 was afoot first emerged from researchers skilled in the art of deciphering the messages encoded in the genome of HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS. The ability to find meaning in over one billion bits of such information has been honed by decades of research on the ever-changing genomes of HIV-1, which can make a life or death difference in how the virus responds to antiviral drugs. Once you know the tale the genomes tell, you can choose which drugs to use to treat a specific strain of the virus.  Read more >>