Humans are mutating COVID-19 virus, but it is fighting back, scientists say

The research could help in the design of vaccines to combat COVID-19


By James Rogers, Fox News

Jul 24, 2020


Researchers say that SARS-CoV-2 is being mutated by human proteins that degrade it, although “natural selection” of the virus is enabling it to bounce back.


Scientists at the U.K.’s University of Bath and the University of Edinburgh say their research could help in the design of vaccines to combat the virus.


In a statement, the researchers note that all organisms mutate but this is usually a random process as a result of mistakes made when DNA is copied.


“In the case of SARS-CoV-2, mutation may well not be a random process and that instead humans are mutating it, as part of a defence mechanism to degrade the virus,” they explain.


The research is published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.


After studying over 15,000 virus genomes from research projects around the world, the scientists identified 6,000 mutations.


“They looked at how much each of the four letters that make up the virus' genetic code (A, C, U and G) were mutating and discovered that the virus had a very high rate of mutations generating U residues,” the scientists explained. Specifically, the mutation commonly generated UU neighboring pairs, mutating from an original sequence of CU and UC.


This, they explained, is the “fingerprint” of the mutational profile of APOBEC (Apolipoprotein B mRNA Editing Catalytic Polypeptide-like), a human protein that can mutate viruses.


“Natural selection -- survival of the fittest -- is allowing the virus to fight back against the mutational process,” the researchers added.


"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,” said lead author Professor Laurence Hurst, director of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, in the statement.


The results could have implications for vaccine design...