Decoding Covid-19 with the SARS-CoV-2 genome

Ellis, Phoebe, Somogyvári, Ferenc, Virok, Dezső P., Noseda, Michela and McLean, Gary R. (2021) Decoding Covid-19 with the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Current Genetic Medicine Reports. pp. 1-12. ISSN 2167-4876


Purpose of review:
SARS-CoV-2, the recently emerged coronavirus (CoV) that is responsible for the current global pandemic Covid-19, first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan China. Here, we summarise details of the SARS-CoV-2 genome to assist understanding of the emergence, evolution and diagnosis of this deadly new virus.

Recent findings:
Based on high similarities in the genome sequences, the virus is thought to have arisen from SARS-like CoVs in bats but the lack of an intermediate species containing a CoV with even greater similarity has so far eluded discovery. The critical determinant of the SARS-CoV-2 genome is the spike (S) gene encoding the viral structural protein that interacts with the host cell entry receptor ACE2. The S protein is sufficiently adapted to bind human ACE2 much more readily than SARS-CoV, the most closely related human CoV.

Although the SARS-CoV-2 genome is undergoing subtle evolution in humans through mutation that may enhance transmission, there is limited evidence for attenuation that might weaken the virus. It is also still unclear as to the events that led to the virus’ emergence from bats. Importantly, current diagnosis requires specific recognition and amplification of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome by qPCR, despite these ongoing viral genome changes. Alternative diagnostic procedures relying on immunoassay are becoming more prevalent.

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