Coronavirus MUTATES: New health concern as virus evolves into ‘striking’ new form

The coronavirus (COVID-19) most likely mutated when jumping between the members of the infected family. Although the exact effects of the mutation are yet to be discovered, health experts fear it could change the way in which the coronavirus behaves.

A coronavirus expert has recently warned mutations in the pathogen’s DNA could turn the virus “into something even worse”.

The coronavirus has infected more than 60,000 people globally and killed more than 1,370 since December last year.

The epidemic began in China’s Hubei Province and was originally traced to a seafood market in Wuhan City.

As of Thursday, February 13, more than 59,800 of the confirmed infections have occurred in China.

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According to the scientists studying the Guangdong cluster, the coronavirus evolved as it spread within the family.

The discovery was outlined in a research paper published in the journal National Science Review on January 29.

Viral infections frequently mutate when replicating due to random changes to their DNA or RNA.

The viral mutations are often subtle and can create new strains or novel viruses.

The mutations will sometimes have no immediate effect on a patient’s symptoms but can make the virus more adaptable to new environments.

In the Guangdong case, the researchers said the “viral evolution may have occurred during person-to-person transmission”.

Close monitoring of the virus’s mutation, evolution, and adaptation is needed

Xiaoman Wei, Xiang Li and Jie Cui, Institut Pasteur of Shanghai

Xiaoman Wei, Xiang Li and Jie Cui at the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai identified two non-synonymous mutations in the viral strains extracted from the family.

Their study reads: “Recombination of viruses occurs when two different parent viruses co-infect the same host cell and interact during replication, generating descendant viruses that have genes from both parental viruses.

“Recombination has often been associated with the expansion of the host range, increases in virulence, the evasion of host immune system and the evolution of resistance to antiviral treatments.

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“Both point mutations and recombination promote host shift for coronaviruses.”

The researchers pointed to frequent recombinations in the genetic material of SARSr-CoV – a progenitor to the deadly SARS-CoV outbreak of 2002 to 2003.

Then, the epidemic was linked to a coronavirus strain carried by bats, which are also a potential source of the ongoing epidemic.

The researchers, however, noted the coronavirus mutations need to be further observed before any conclusions are drawn.

They said: “Due to the limited sequence release and no functional changes given at present, adaptive evolution cannot be confirmed with these changes.

“Thus close monitoring of the virus’s mutation, evolution, and adaptation is needed.”

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the need for a global strategy to develop effective cures and drugs.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “This outbreak is a test of solidarity – political, financial and scientific.

“We need to come together to fight a common enemy that does not respect borders, ensure that we have the resources necessary to bring this outbreak to an end and bring our best science to the forefront to find shared answers to shared problems.”

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