What is coronavirus and where does it come from?

Coronavirus infections are characteristic of animals, large birds and mammals, and can reach humans through close contact with animals who carry these viruses. If this occurs, the said virus uses the human body to multiply and then spreads via droplets emitted in a cough or sneeze.

The COVID-19 disease is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus; commonly known as coronavirus. However, this is not the only coronavirus discovered so far, nor is it the first time we are dealing with one from this family of viruses.

The first case of infection with a virus from this family was recorded as early as 1962[1]. Subsequent infections with SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV coronaviruses affected less than a thousand people – neither virus caused an epidemic of the current scale. Today, almost 2 million cases have been reported worldwide and these numbers are still rising! (13.04.2020)

We already know that mere contact with SARS-CoV-2 virus, or rather with a person infected with the virus, is not necessarily associated with the development of symptoms, thus does not necessarily cause COVID-19 (L. Huang, X. Zhang and X. Zhang et al., 2020).

Some may have the disease without experiencing symptoms but may still spread the virus to people around them (Harvard Health Publishing).

Therefore, an effective, quick and cheap method of treatment, vaccines, as well as being able to identify a patient’s immunity to the disease are needed.

Our genes – what can they tell us?

To identify a patient’s immunity to COVID-19, modern diagnostic technologies, such as whole-genomic sequencing, can be used.

Our genes code for proteins – enzymes, antibodies, etc., which affect every process in our body. Although our genomes are similar, some genetic variants differ from each other. This makes us unique – we have different eye-colours, hair-colours, different bodies. These genetic variants can also affect our susceptibility to diseases.

Possibly, some of our genomes carry genetic variants that could cause either enhanced vulnerability or immunity against the virus SARS-CoV-2.  The question regarding the information stored in our genome can be answered by whole-genome sequencing.

By sequencing DNA, we can find differences between the genes of different people. If we compare the genomes of patients infected with the virus, but showing no symptoms, with the genomes of patients whose symptoms have occurred, and then with those who passed away due to the disease, we can get a set of very important information about the patient’s genetic predisposition to being especially vulnerable or to being immune.

 If we find differences between our genes, we will be able to learn which infection risk group we belong to.

What can we learn from sequencing?

By comparing and thoroughly analysing the genomes of three groups of patients (I. infected with virus, but showing no symptoms, II. Showing symptoms, III. Those who passed away as a result of the disease) – i.e. by performing whole-genome profiling, it is possible to obtain information on specific factors (so-called markers) that affect our susceptibility to COVID-19.

In other words, this approach may enable the development of a new diagnostic test. If we discover the markers in our genes, we will be able to find out which risk group we belong to.

Knowledge about our genome and our predisposition to susceptibility in the context of the virus can be applied to the medical service – personnel more vulnerable to the virus could be advised not work with COVID-19 patients, while those less susceptible to the virus could work without fear of infection.

This knowledge can also contribute to the development of new therapies and a vaccine against the virus.

At the time of writing, the total number of infections has exceeded 1.9 million, and these numbers are still growing, so it’s important to find effective ways to fight the virus quickly.

The graph shows confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections over time, for ten countries, with an extension of death coverage. John Hopkins University. Cumulative cases by date. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/cumulative-cases

To speed up the work on defeating the invisible enemy, MNM Diagnostics joined the covid19hg.org initiative, working alongside Rockerfeller University, Yale School of Medicine, Imperial College London, UCLA etc. The project aims to bring together scientific communities working on the genetic aspects of COVID-19, facilitating the flow of information between them.

Paradoxically to the current situation – we believe that there is strength in working as a group! Together, we hope to find new solutions and quickly control the epidemic.