NIH identify genomic features differentiating novel coronavirus from other animal-derived viruses
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This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus … more >
By Shen Wu Tan
The Washington Times
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Researchers have pinpointed genomic characteristics of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease, from other coronaviruses that cause less severe diseases, according to a statement Thursday by the National Institutes of Health.
By comparing the genome of SARS-CoV-2 virus to other coronaviruses, the researchers identified protein features that are unique to SARS-CoV-2 and two other coronaviruses strains with high fatality rates, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
“This research could be a crucial step in helping scientists develop approaches to predict, by genome analysis alone, the severity of future coronavirus disease outbreaks and detect animal coronaviruses that have the potential to infect humans,” says an NIH press release.
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The genomic features include insertions of certain stretches of amino acids into two virus proteins called the nucleocapsid and the spike. They are found in all three of these higher fatality coronaviruses and their closest relatives that infect animals such as bats and correspond to the virus’ ability to jump from animals to humans. The protein features are not found in four other human coronaviruses that cause non-fatal disease.
Finding the insertions in the spike protein, which could help recognize coronavirus receptors on human cells and when they penetrate into these cells, in animal coronavirus isolates could help predict the transmission to humans and the severity of disease, the NIH statement says.
“This innovative research is critical to improve researchers’ understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and aid in the response to COVID-19,” said Patricia Flatley Brennan, NIH’s National Library of Medicine director. “Predictions made through this analysis can inform possible targets for diagnostics and interventions.”
COVID-19 has infected more than 7 million people and killed more than 410,000 globally as of Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker.
Health experts estimate that COVID-19 has a fatality rate of about 3%. Officials say SARS has a case-fatality rate of about 15% while MERS has an estimated mortality rate of 35%.