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Coronavirus. What does genetics say about it?

No one knew the word coronavirus or what it implied until a few months ago. The coronavirus is a subtype of the virus that needs to invade cells of living organisms for its survival. In this case, one of the typical carriers is the bat, although, in the case of the beginning of the VID-19 pandemic, it seems to go back to a fish market in Wuhan, China.

What occurred was a zoonosis, which is rare, but has already happened with “mad cow” syndrome or avian influenza. That is the transmission of a virus from an animal to the human species. The virus made up of RNA; for its survival, it is essential to infect new cells in which to reproduce and survive. In this case, the coronavirus COVID-19 spreads through human-to-human transmission.

Living in a hyperconnected world is a strength of our society, but this time it has been revealed as a weakness. We are witnessing a phenomenon of massive contagion facilitated by the rapid movement of citizens between countries and continents, which makes it possible for the virus to spread around the world at high speed and in a short time. However, the groups at risk remain the same as the common flu, and their symptomatology is also quite similar.

In parallel to the measures taken to limit the movement of people between countries and promote “social distancing,” researchers have also begun to do their homework.

One of the first steps has been the sequencing of the virus. That is, reading every letter that codes the virus’s RNA. This first advance has been fundamental in the research of possible vaccines. In the same way, it was a significant move for tracking of the coronavirus. Among the detection techniques used, RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction) stands out. Many of the diagnostic tests performed by laboratories around the world use this technique. Exponential amplification by reverse transcription PCR is a highly sensitive technique, which can detect several RNA copies. As the virus is composed of RNA, this exposes the possible viral load.


How is the technology reacting to the pandemic?

One of the most relevant initiatives, especially in the case of South Korea, has been the development of self-diagnostic apps that try to avoid hospital collapse. Also, there are platforms, such as the one developed by John Hopkins University (USA), in which the spread of the pandemic can be followed almost in real-time [1]. Another genetic project with a significant impact is NextStrain.org, which was born to track the mutagenic potential of the virus and monitor mutations from their origin. It is precisely these mutations that open the door to re-contamination.

The vaccine is also on its way, more than 70 research projects around the world, promoted by public, private or philanthropic organizations2, are pulling their weight. Still, the first vaccines will not be expected to be available before a year.


This unique moment in our history will be marked in our DNA, as it has been with other pandemics[2]. But just as the human species overcame previous epidemics, it will also defeat the coronavirus Covid19.


Written by Manuel de la Mata


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