Scientists identify nearly 200 genetic mutations in SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19


HEALTH | MAY 06, 2020:

Scientists have identified nearly 200 genetic mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 by analyzing virus genes from over 7,500 people infected with the disease globally, an advance that offers clues to direct drugs and vaccine targets.

The study, published in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution, characterized patterns of diversity of the genome of the virus, highlighting how it may be adapting and evolving to its human hosts.

The researchers from University College of London (UCL) in the United Kingdom found that a large proportion of the global genetic diversity of SARS-CoV-2 is found in all hardest-hit countries, suggesting extensive global transmission from early on in the epidemic and the absence of single 'Patient Zeroes' in most countries.

The findings further establish that the virus only emerged recently in late 2019, before quickly spreading across the globe. The scientists identified 198 mutations that appear to have independently occurred more than once, which may hold clues to how the virus is adapting.

All viruses naturally mutate. Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected, Professor Francois Balloux from UCL said. So far it cannot be confirmed whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious, he said. Prof. Balluoux further said, a major challenge to defeat viruses is that a vaccine or drug might no longer be effective, if the virus has mutated. There is a need to develop drugs and vaccines that cannot be easily evaded by the virus, he said.

The results add to a growing body of evidence that SARS-CoV-2 viruses share a common ancestor from late 2019, suggesting that this was when the virus jumped from a previous animal host, into people.