The ongoing analysis of the gene sequences of the novel coronavirus has so far not revealed anything to suggest that the virus present in India is in any way different from that circulating in other parts of the world. There is also no evidence, as of now, of any one particular strain of the virus being more deadly than the other, scientists have said.
Viruses, or indeed any organism, develop minor but permanent changes in their genetic codes, called mutations, over a period of time due to a variety of factors, including climatic and environmental conditions. It is these variations that are responsible for the diversity that is seen in any organism.
Scientists track the mutations happening in the viruses keenly, because these are key to understanding their behaviour, and in drug and vaccine development.
“We have been extracting the genome sequences of this virus taken from infected people across the country. We have completed about 20 such sequences. And within that we have noticed some 15-20 variations that, at this moment, appear unique to the virus circulating in India. However, the data we have right now is not adequate to draw any conclusion. You will find variations in gene sequences of two individual viruses also. Only when we finish many more gene sequences, will we be in a position to interpret the data in any meaningful way. As of now, there is nothing to say that the Indian strain is in anyway special, or different,” Rakesh Mishra, director of Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), a CSIR research laboratory, told The Indian Express.
No proof of ‘weaker’ virus
It has been suggested that the virus circulating in India is ‘weaker’, or Indians have a ‘stronger’ immunity. A few days ago, a doctor in Ahmedabad suggested that the relatively high number of deaths in Gujarat could be due to a deadlier strain of the virus than the one in Kerala. Research does not show evidence for this possibility so far.
CCMB is one of the several laboratories, within the CSIR network and outside, that are actively engaged in genome sequencing of SARS-nCoV2. Mishra said over the next one week or 10 days, hundreds of sequences are likely to be completed. These virus samples are being taken from infected people from different regions, age groups, and medical histories to make it representative.
“One of the things that we can easily find out — well developed scientific tools allow us to do so — is to track the origin of the virus, and the route it might have taken to come to India. Based on this information, you would have heard about different strains, like the ‘Wuhan strain’. As of now, the only distinction we are able to make with respect to different strains is their source, or origin. There is no other difference that we presently know of,” he said.
Gautam Menon, a professor of computational biology and theoretical physics at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai, said even in other parts of the world, there was no “unambiguous” evidence to suggest that any one strain of the virus was more “virulent” than the other.
“I think this is generally well accepted in scientific circles. I don’t think there is any evidence as of now that there is any strain in any part of the world that is noticeably different from the others in its virulence. We are still in the process of discovering these things,” he said.
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