It is important to know your enemies, so here is a breakdown of the Coronavirus Genome. The virus is basically an oily membrane that carries genetic information that is used to make millions of copies. This genetic information is coded in 30,000 letters of the RNA, essentially a, c, g, and u. This information is read by the cells that carry it, which multiply and reproduce it into various kinds of virus proteins. Coronavirus is highly dangerous as it threatens the survival of many people not just by death through the disease, but by death and hunger through other factors as well. These include loss of jobs or lack of focus on other issues such as the polio vaccine program in Pakistan, which has been halted. Recently, plenty of research and news has come out stating the possibility of mutations with coronavirus, so Shifa4U is here to inform you about it and the possible ways to protect yourself or get tested against it.
The history of this strain of the virus emerged at the end of 2019, in a seafood marketplace in Wuhan. This was seen as a rise in the cases of pneumonia until researchers began exploring these cases and discovered what we know now as the SARS-Cov-2. This was found by looking at the very first genome of the virus, obtained from patient zero, who was a worker at this market. It became the baseline genome, which was then tracked around the world, dubbed as the Wuhan-Hu-1 genome.
So, if this is the blueprint for the virus, where did the alterations come in? To put it simply, the mutations are kind of like typos in the RNA. While making multiple copies of the original genome, the cell copying it may make a mistake. This may be in the form of a single letter, but that leads to an entirely new blueprint of the virus, known as a mutation. As the cells reproduce this virus from one person to another, many random mutations occur. This can be seen in the genome found from another one of the early patients. The typo was made on the 186th letter of the RNA of the virus, where it copied a u instead of a c. This is known as the WH-09 genome, and it occurred only 12 days after the first genome was found.
These mutations occur at fairly regular rates, which helped scientists trace the original outbreak of the virus. They found that the 186th letter mutation occurred in areas outside Wuhan, meaning that it may be directly linked to WH-09, or they may share ancestors. As this developed, more mutations started occurring wherein cells replaced two more letters to u. Roughly two months later, the GZMU0030 genome arose in Guangzhou.
So, it is safe to say that mutations occur regularly. They may change the gene, but not the protein it encodes into. These are known as silent mutations, because it still encodes the same amino acid, not changing the virus protein that is created. However, non-silent mutations also change the resulting protein. This may be negligible because changing a single amino acid does not mean it will necessarily impact the shape or functioning of the resulting protein. Moreover, some of these mutations disappear, while others spread. This depends on the part in which the mutation occurs, while some may not harm the virus, others may make it weaker in certain areas.
However, the fact of the matter remains: this particular virus has had, more commonly, genomes that have ten or fewer mutations. On the other hand, less than a tenth of a percent of the genome has been presented with over 20 mutations. This makes it a slow mutating virus. Since January, there has been researched into all the mutations that have arisen in the SARS-CoV-2 genomes. As a result, it is concluded that there is no serious evidence that suggests that these mutations will have an impact on how the virus affects humans. It has, however, been useful for tracking the origin of the virus across different regions. Optimistically, this is good news for the vaccines in development because there is a while before any vaccines, once invented, will be challenged by significantly different strains of the virus.
There is not much one can do to contribute to defeating COVID-19 completely, but small steps can be taken by each and every person to solve the crisis. One of them is to self-isolate if you are feeling mildly sick or less severe symptoms of COVID-19 and getting yourself tested if you experience more significant symptoms, including shortness of breath.