The new Coronavirus outbreak has put mankind on high alert with more than 140 countries fighting an invisible yet highly deadly enemy. The Coronavirus has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide, and many people argue the virus was the product of a lab test gone wrong.
While Washington and Beijing exchange accusations of artificially starting the deadly outbreak, a group of researchers has determined that the virus is the product of natural evolution, thus refuting such conspiracy theories.
On the other hand, in a Swiss laboratory, researchers have been able to finally recreate a synthetic version of the virus for study, raising the alarm about its potential use as a biological weapon.
Coronaviruses, that’s plural
The Coronavirus does not come from Mexican Corona Beer, and there isn’t just ONE coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are an extensive group of pathogens responsible for various types of diseases, some of them severe, as in the case of the SARS outbreaks in 2003 and the MERS in 2012, which originated in China and Saudi Arabia, respectively.
On December 31, the Chinese authorities informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the presence of a new and unknown strain of Coronavirus, and shortly afterward, the complete sequence of its genome was deciphered by scientists from said country, revealing to the world a terrifying new enemy.
Th world listened but did so without much attention it seems.
With the help of data provided from China, the authors of a new study- published in the journal Natural Medicine – analyzed the patterns of spike proteins on the surface of the Coronavirus, thanks to which it owes its name and which serve to adhere and penetrate the outer walls of human and animal cells.
The scientists focused on two key characteristics of the spikes: the receptor-binding domain (RBD), a kind of hook with which the virus is able to attach to the cell wall, and the cleavage site, which functions as a “can opener” that allows it to open up and invade the hijacked cell.
Scientists observed that the RBD portion of the spike proteins has evolved to more effectively attack the ACE2 receptor of human cells, responsible for regulating blood pressure.
The new study concluded that it could not be the result of genetic manipulation, but of natural selection.
Likewise, they found substantial differences between the general molecular structure of all known coronaviruses with that of SARS-CoV-2, which was similar to the strains detected in bats and pangolins.
By comparing the available information on the genomic sequence of known coronavirus strains, scientists determined that SARS-CoV-2 originated from natural processes.
“These two characteristics of the virus, mutations in the RBD portion of the spike protein and the distinctive [molecular structure], rule out laboratory manipulation as a potential source for SARS-CoV-2,” explained Kristian Andersen, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the Scripps Research Institute and the lead author of the study.
Creating the COVID-19 Coronavirus in a lab
Behind the doors of a high-security laboratory in a small town in Switzerland, scientists from the University of Bern managed to successfully “recreate” the new Coronavirus.
To assemble the virus in a week, scientists from Switzerland needed “blueprints of the virus,” which were provided by Chinese scientists who published on January 10, the draft of the coronavirus genome on an open-access site.
The synthetic virus, whose characteristics are detailed in a study published on the biorXiv preprint server, could help laboratories develop drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests for the Coronavirus.
However, the fact that scientists managed to create the virus so quickly in the lab has raised numerous alarms. It shows how fast people can create potentially deadly viruses in secret labs.
Let’s hope that countries around the world will work hard to prevent such catastrophic scenarios and realize that mankind is highly susceptible to unfortunate events like COVID-19.
In the meantime, do your part and help maintain COVID-19 under control. Here are things you can and should do.
Remember, stay safe and stay at home, the best way to fight the virus is to not allow it to spread further.
Everything you need to know about VOCID-19 can be found on the website of the World Health Organization.