Coronavirus-the family tree: the mystery of the origin of the pathogen

The Chinese metropolis of Wuhan is home to around eleven million people and is closely linked with the current Coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2. In Wuhan at the end of December, cases of a novel lung disease, the doctors later Covid-19 baptized accumulated. Since the first cases of illness were associated with a wild animal market in the metropolis, it is considered likely that the causative agent could there be to the people of passed, and to spread eventually a global pandemic. The final proof for this theory – the detection of the pathogen in a on-site selling pet – is missing so far.

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What if the origin of the pathogen could have been an other? To this question, several media were in the past few days. The news portal “Watson” reported about a “crumbling” Wuhan theory. Reference of the report took on a study, which has already appeared at the beginning of April in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS). The star asked one of the study authors, what is it with the results on it. Dr. Michael Forster works at the “Institute for Clinical molecular biology” (IKMB) at the University hospital of Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH)

Mr Forster, in the beginning of April appeared in the journal PNAS a study in which they deal with the pedigree of the current Coronavirus. What is the core message?

Our study relates to the early state of the global pandemic from the beginning of March, after the international flight connections to China were interrupted, but before the global flight disruptions, border closures and contact closures limits. The global virus genome database GISAID included at the beginning of March 253 entries from laboratories in many Parts of the world. 160 of these entries were not complete enough to of us to be mathematically analyzed. Our mathematical reconstruction of the corona virus-a family tree shows three main lines, which have formed by the end of February:

We have found by comparison with the Coronavirus of bat that the A-variant is the Oldest.

Dr. Michael Forster works at the “Institute for Clinical molecular biology” (IKMB) at the University hospital of Schlwesig-Holstein (UKSH). He conducts research on the genetic origins of the current Coronavirus. The support he gets from his Team and the Team of his brother, Dr. Peter Forster from “the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research” at the University of Cambridge.

What has surprised you personally to the results the most?

Before we had compared the human corona viruses with the bat and pangolin – corona virus, and it looked as if the origin of the pandemic was deeply rooted in the city of Wuhan. The comparison with the virus from animal hosts pointed out, however, that the Transmission of the Virus from an animal to a human, might have taken place.

What speaks for the Thesis that the Virus was not in Wuhan, its origin? What about it?

We interpret the case data in such a way that a Transition of a bat-Coronavirus to humans might be in the Chinese Region of Guangdong, about 1000 km to the South from Wuhan, happened. However, this is only a personal Interpretation, for which, however, also speaks that some of the early cases of infection of the group A are from Guangdong. But there are also early cases of infection in Wuhan, the virus profiles of group A have. In addition, only a few virus profiles for bat corona viruses, and other animal coronaviruses are today. The origin of the more narrow, we are of the view that the Chinese colleagues would have to investigate more bats and other animals on corona virus.

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Why are mutations for the type of research that they do, so exciting?

Mutations are normal and natural changes in living organisms and viruses. Mutations multiply in the course of time, mostly by chance, but partly also quite typical as a result of exogenous conditions. Mutations we use generally very happy to as a “genetic fingerprint” in research and in clinical diagnostics. If we combine the mutation profiles with additional information or observations, then we hope to see many of the conclusions to be drawn: on the genetic history of development and the genetic origin of the form, on exogenous factors that favour certain mutations, the clinical of a patient’s Response to therapy and a lot more.

Why is research of this kind so important?

Many viruses and bacteria are not yet explored. First of all, before you go so that you can classify a newly discovered Virus in relation to other viruses, so classified. This happened on 2. March 2020 fast-tracked through the publication of the “Coronaviridae Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses”. In Parallel, we and other scientists studied the different known variants of the Sars-CoV-2 Virus; to this end, we have published our phylogene table network in “PNAS”.

At which point this type of research uses?

The specific Benefit of our analysis is that we have gained an Overview of the mutations and in which Region of the world, the different Profiles occur. It is now recognize is reassuring that the Virus mutates so little that the current clinical detection methods would not likely affect. Because a Mutation can lead in the worst case, a PCR Test in the laboratory provides conflicting results. Also in the drug and vaccine development, one is interested in mutations, since they could also have an impact on the effectiveness.

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