Low genetic diversity of SARS-CoV-2 may work well for vaccines

It turns out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent for Covid-19, may well have an Achilles’ heel, which could potentially be exploited

By   |  Published: 23rd Sep 2020  12:07 amUpdated: 23rd Sep 2020  12:31 am
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Hyderabad: In the gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has not shown any signs of slowing down in the country, there is one silver lining that could bring a lot of optimism among the general public and also researchers involved in finding a breakthrough against Covid-19 disease.

It turns out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent for Covid-19, may well have an Achilles’ heel, which could potentially be exploited. Despite millions of people across the world testing positive for Covid-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has hardly seen any major genetic changes.

The lack of genetic biodiversity of SARS-CoV-2 virus is being seen as a positive sign by geneticists who believe that a highly stable genome will make the vaccines more effective. A case in point is the recent genomic study of Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and another seminal study that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America published on Monday.

The CCMB researchers analysed more than 2,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes exclusively in India while an international group of researchers, whose work was published in PNAS, analysed 27,977 SARS-CoV-2 sequences from across 84 countries. The aim was to study the genome and also to track and characterise the evolution of the novel coronavirus since its origin.

The common indication from both the studies was that the SARS-CoV-2 has a ‘slow genetic drift’ and is a highly stable genome. The remarkably low genetic diversity of the virus makes it very well suited for a vaccine to be more effective.

“The similarity in viral genome globally should be considered a positive news, because a vaccine or a drug targeting this mutation will work with the same effectiveness all over the world,” Dr Rakesh K Mishra, Director, CCMB, who is a co-author of the CCMB study, said recently.

The PNAS study said that “The principle conclusion reached by the authors of this work is that SARS-CoV-2 genetic diversity is remarkably low, almost entirely the product of genetic drift, and should not be expected to impede development of a broadly protective vaccine”.

The US scientists who led the genome analysis study concluded that researchers across the world must continue to track genetic changes in the novel coronavirus, both to follow their spread and also to identify antigenic shifts should they occur. “Yet, it is equally important to recognise that what we have observed to this point is a slow genetic drift characteristic of a virus with a highly stable genome,” PNAS study said.

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