COVID-19 Spread and Threat
Could a Natural Mutation Slowdown COVID-19?
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“The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus”,
quote by Joshua Lederberg (see photograph below).
The best medical scientists, physicians, epidemiologists, microbiologists, and infectious disease experts are currently joining forces worldwide to find a way to stop the spreading of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing “Coronavirus Disease of 2019” (Covid-19), which has become a global pandemic. As of March 22, 2020, there are more than 335,400 people infected with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide, and more than 14,610 people have died from the disease.
Figure 1 – Structure of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, images by transmission electron microscopy. The virus resembles an sphere with spikes. The S-protein or Spike protein is critical for virus entry into human cells.
Source – Science 2020, 367 (6483) p1260-1263
As the biotechnology/pharmaceutical industry collaborates with medical academic institutions in the search for a treatment/vaccine or cure for Covid-19, it is difficult to predict the evolution of the current pandemic and virus behavior in coming weeks, months. As the world waits for the outcome of ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments for Covid-19, it is important keeping aware of what medical science has taught us from previous epidemics such as SARS in 2002, middle east respiratory outbreak (MERS) in 2012 and Spanish flu (1918). Despite of the relatively short history of Covid-19, which started in China in December 2019, knowledge of the biology of the new coronavirus, SARSCoV-2, have grown very quickly.
New Discoveries Could Speed up Vaccine Development
Recently, scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, discovered the mechanism of entry of SARS-CoV-2 into human cells (Science 2020, 367 (6483) p1260-1263). The Spike protein, or S-protein, is critical for viral entry. Another group of researchers led by Qiang Zhou, a research fellow at Westlake University in Hangzhou, China, have revealed how the new virus attaches to a receptor on respiratory cells called “angiotensin-converting enzyme 2”, or ACE2 ( Science March 4th, 2020: eabb2762 DOI: 10.1126/science.abb2762). Zhou and his team have now discovered the second part of the puzzle by describing how S-protein binds to ACE2 receptor on the surface of respiratory cells. This knowledge could be critical for the success of ongoing efforts to find a treatment or cure.
Figure 2 – Mechanism of entry of SARS-CoV-2 into human cells. The virus mechanism of entry is similar to the one utilized by the virus SARS-CoV, which caused the SARS outbreak of 2002. Panel A depicts “Spike protein” or “S-protein” on the surface of the coronavirus binding to “angiotensin-converting enzyme 2” (ACE-2) receptors on the surface of a human cell. Panel B shows the “type II transmembrane serine protease” (TMPRSS2) binding to and cleaving ACE-2 receptor, which activates the Spike protein of the coronavirus. Panel C shows viral entry.