Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 lived harmlessly in bats and other animals. Now, researchers at Duke University have identified a number of “silent” mutations in the virus’s genetic code that helped it thrive after it crossed over to humans. The study is published in PeerJ.
The researchers developed statistical methods to identify adaptive changes that arose in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in humans, but not in closely related coronaviruses found in bats and pangolins. The study flagged mutations that altered the spike proteins, suggesting that viral strains carrying these mutations were more likely to thrive.
It also identified additional culprits in two other regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, dubbed Nsp4 and Nsp16. These appear to have given the virus a biological edge over previous strains without altering the proteins they encode.
Instead of affecting proteins, the researchers said, the changes likely affected how the virus’s genetic material folds up into 3-D shapes and functions inside human cells.
Source: Duke University
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