Chennai: A new study, whose findings may help in the design of new vaccines against Covid-19, has said that while some mutations in the novel coronavirus are directed by the human immune system proteins which degrade it, the virus is able to bounce back.
Scientists including Alan Rice from the University of Bath in the UK said that while all organisms mutate the process is usually random, often owing to mistakes made when the genetic material is copied.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, noted that in the case of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the process may not be random, and that humans are mutating it as part of a defence mechanism to degrade the virus.
Researchers assessed over 15,000 virus genomes from all of the sequencing efforts around the world, and identified over 6,000 mutations.
They looked at how much the sequence of four basic molecules that make up the virus’ genetic code — Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Uracil (U), and Guanine (G) — was mutating.
Scientists discovered that the virus genome sample data they analysed had a very high rate of mutations generating U residues.
Study senior author Laurence Hurst, Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, said, “I have looked at mutational profiles for many organisms and they all show some sort of bias, but I’ve never seen one as strong and strange as this.”
In particular, the scientists found that mutation very commonly generated UU neighbouring pairs, changing from the original sequence of CU and UC.
They said this is a fingerprint of the mutational profile of a human protein called APOBEC that can mutate viruses.
Hurst added: “It looks like mutation isn’t random, but instead we are attacking the virus by mutating it.”