CM – Genome study reveals East Asian coronavirus epidemic 20,000 years ago


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June 24, 2021

from Queensland University of Technology

An international study has found that more than 20,000 years ago a coronavirus epidemic broke out in the region of East Asia, the traces of which can be seen in the genetic makeup of the people from this region.

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Professor Kirill Alexandrov of the CSIRO-QUT Synthetic Biology Alliance and the QUT Center for Genomics and Personalized Health is part of a team of researchers from the University of Arizona, the University of California San Francisco and the University of Adelaide who are translating their results into the Journal Current Biology.

There have been three epidemic outbreaks of severe coronavirus in the past 20 years: SARS-CoV, which resulted in severe acute respiratory syndrome that originated in China in 2002 and killed more than 800 people; MERS-CoV led to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which killed more than 850 people, and SARS-CoV-2, which led to COVID-19, which killed 3.8 million people.

But these Study of the evolution of the human genome has shown that another major coronavirus epidemic broke out thousands of years ago.

« The modern human genome contains evolutionary information that traces back tens of thousands of years, like studying the rings of a tree gives us insight into the conditions he experienced while he was growing, « said Professor Alexandrov.

In the study, the researchers used data from the 1000 Genomes Project, the largest public catalog of general genetic variations in humans, and examined the changes in the human genes that code for proteins that interact with SARS-CoV-2.

They then synthesized both human and SARS-CoV-2 proteins without adding to living cells and showed that they interacted directly, specifically pointing out the conserved nature of the mechanism coronaviruses use for cell invasion.

« Computer scientists on the team applied evolutionary analysis to the human genomic dataset to find evidence that the ancestors of the East Asian population experienced an epidemic of coronavirus-induced disease similar to COVID-19, « said Professor Alexandrov.

The East Asians come from what is now China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan .

« As the epidemic progressed, selection favored variants of human pathogenetic genes with adaptive changes that presumably led to less severe disease, » said Professor Alexandrov.

« By gaining better insight into the ancient viral enemies , we gain an understanding of how genomes of different human populations have adapted to the viruses, recently recognized as a major engine of human evolution.

« Another important offshoot of this research is the ability to identify viruses that have caused epidemics in the distant past and may do so in the future.

 » With that we can basically compile a list of potentially dangerous viruses and then develop diagnostics, vaccines and drugs in case they come back.  »

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