All living beings have genes. They are a set of instructions that dictates what the organism is like, what it looks like, how it behaves and survives in its biome.
Genes are made of what is commonly called ‘DNA’. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid.
A geneticist is an individual that studies genes and how targeting them can improve certain parts of a human’s life.
The engineering of genetics can provide multiple benefits to people. This includes increasing the level at which plants produce food, and preventing diseases in humans. The study of genes has advanced to unprecedented levels at this current phase of evolution.
Study of Ancient Genes May Help Battle Covid
A panel of scientists, which was co-led by researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Adelaide dove deep into human genomes in order to find an association between ancient coronavirus epidemics and the adaptations humans had to make to survive.
They hope that comprehending the effect of previous pandemics on the mutations of genes will provide scientists with more firepower in the fight against Covid.
Yassine Souilmi, the lead author of the research paper explains in their article that they applied evolutionary analyses to human genomic data so that they could recover selective events that involved tons of genes that interact with coronaviruses.
Throughout the existence of humans, positive natural selection has picked out virus-interacting proteins (VIPs). These work in building immunity and viruses hijack them and leave the body vulnerable.
The team farmed genetic data from the 1000 Genomes Project which is a huge catalog of variations in human genes.
Two statistical analyses found genetic signals called ‘selective sweeps’.
The scientists sought out modifications in the selective sweeps among more than 400 VIPs that come into contact with coronaviruses.
Considering the evidence that VIPs are used by viruses to take over host cells, they focused their energy and attention on these genes.
Another reason why they chose these genes is that VIPs tend to have a better influence on viruses when compared to other proteins.
The observed mutations had steadily increased in frequency up until about 5000 years ago. Although, the research acknowledges that such adaptations do not mean that those populations are more at risk to viruses.
It is honestly quite stunning that epidemics from 20,000 years ago can be analyzed by looking at a sample that is just a few years old. This just proves that there is data of elephantine proportions present in the genome of populations.
The scientists hope that their research will help in developing solutions to these epidemics.
William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University is hoping that this kind of research will eventually pave the way for medical interventions which would allow people to control the pandemic in a much more effective way.
Schaffner was of the opinion that the East Asian populations underwent a very high death rate in order to develop genetic protection against the ancient virus. Developing natural immunity comes at a steep price.
The study does have some limitations though…
The scientists have put out a word of caution that the data they used in their tests have been extracted from populations of the modern world who have different ancestral structures than the East Asian set where the VIP genes were seen.
Historic DNA samples may advocate the evolution of mutations, but they are yet to be truly discovered.
They also added that their genomic approach which is based on populations was unable to pinpoint the variants that caused the VIP proteins to be formed.
They mentioned that the entirely different virus using similar VIPs may have given rise to the adaptations that they witnessed.