Coronavirus: Understand SARS-CoV-2 evolution based on genetic mutations

Coronavirus: Understand SARS-CoV-2 evolution based on genetic mutations

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Does better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 mutations lead to new drugs?

When analyzing the virus genomes of people with COVID-19, almost 200 recurrent genetic mutations of the virus were identified, which indicate effective medication and vaccine targets.

In the current study by the University College London, important patterns of the diversity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome were characterized, which could contribute to the development of drugs or to an effective treatment. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Infection, Genetics and Evolution".

Patterns of the diversity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome were characterized for the first time

By analyzing the virus genomes of over 7,500 people infected with Covid-19, the diversity patterns of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome could be characterized. The 198 recurring genetic mutations of coronavirus identified in the study show how it may adapt and evolve to its human hosts.

Results suggest global transmission at the onset of the epidemic

The researchers found that a large part of the global genetic diversity of SARS-CoV-2 occurs in all countries that are severely affected, which suggests that global transmission will take place at the very beginning of the epidemic. In addition, this indicates the absence of individual zero patient cases in most countries.

Study shows how the virus adapts

The results of the study show that the virus did not appear until the end of 2019, before it spread quickly across the world. The 198 mutations, which apparently occurred more than once independently of each other, provide information on how the virus adapts.

Does SARS-CoV-2 mutate into a more lethal virus?

Viruses mutate naturally. Mutations in themselves are neither good nor bad, but indicate how quickly or slowly a virus adapts. So far, it cannot be said whether SARS-CoV-2 will become more or less fatal and contagious in the future, the researchers report.

Better targets for treatment identified

The small genetic changes, or mutations, identified were not evenly distributed across the virus genome. Some parts of the genome had very few mutations, the researchers explain. These immutable parts of the virus could be better targets for drug and vaccine development.

Medicines can become ineffective through mutation

A major challenge in fighting viruses is that a vaccine or medication may no longer be effective if the virus is mutated. Focusing research on parts of the virus that are less likely to mutate increases the likelihood of developing drugs that are effective in the long term. Drugs and vaccines that the virus cannot easily bypass need to be developed, the researchers explain.

When did the virus first appear in humans?

The results complement a growing body of evidence that SARS-CoV-2 viruses have a common ancestor by the end of 2019, suggesting that this was the time when the virus jumped into humans from a previous animal host. This means that it is highly unlikely that the virus causing CORVID-19 was in circulation long before it was first detected in humans, the researchers report.

Analysis of so many virus genomes is extremely beneficial

In the early months of the pandemic, being able to analyze such an exceptional number of viral genomes could be invaluable for drug development, the research group added. This shows how far genome research has come in the past decade. We all benefit from the enormous efforts of hundreds of researchers worldwide who have sequenced virus genomes and made them available online, the researchers report. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Lucy van Dorp, Mislav Acmana, Damien Richard, Liam P.Shaw, Charlotte E. Ford et al .: Emergence of genomic diversity and recurrent mutations in SARS-CoV-2, in Infection, Genetics and Evolution (published May 5, 2020), Infection, Genetics and Evolution

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