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Novel coronavirus is very similar to SARS-CoV

The similarities also extend to the mode of transmission. The SARS virus (SARS-CoV) interacts with animal and human hosts in order to infect them (and can be passed on from animals to humans, what is known as a zoonotic infection). The mechanisms of infection, say virologists from the University of Minnesota, demonstrated by the Wuhan-originating coronavirus show a strong similarity with SARS. Coronaviruses in general are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is a positive and single stranded RNA virus. The virus is a member of a family of enveloped coronaviruses. It is one of the largest among RNA viruses. SARS is thought to have originated from bats, making a species jump to infect humans.

The new coronavirus has been named both “Covid-19” and “2019-nCoV” and it was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The virus is a betacoronavirus, and is similar to previously identified viruses like MERS and SARS. The question is, how similar?

The novel coronavirus has been shown to share the same angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) as SARS, indicating that the two viruses are relatively similar in their ability to infect a host.

What is more concerning is with the potential for the novel virus to mutate. In a research brief, the virologists write: “Alarmingly, our data predict that a single mutation [at a specific spot in the genome] could significantly enhance [the Wuhan coronavirus’s] ability to bind with human ACE2.”

This means that health officials need to be especially vigilant in monitoring cases of the viral infection for emergence of novel mutations.

The research is published in the Journal of Virology, with the study titled “Receptor recognition by novel coronavirus from Wuhan: An analysis based on decade-long structural studies of SARS.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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