Until earlier this year, you may not have heard the word ‘coronavirus’ uttered ever before. Unfortunately, these days the ‘novel coronavirus’ has become a household name.
Even so, the virus responsible for COVID-19 may be new to your ears but it belongs to a well-established family of viruses. Historically, most of these viruses have been documented for hundreds of years to affect a variety of animals. With their unique spike-like features and round shape, scientists gave them the title “corona” which means crown. Over time, each coronavirus has mutated and changed, breaking out into new strains that have occasionally been known to jump from animal to man.
Much like most organisms in nature, viruses experience their own form of ‘evolution’ typically referred to as genetic shift. As they continue to interact with their hosts and confront competition, they accrue mutations that change their genetic code. Often, many of these mutations occur by accident or happen randomly. Some may even allow the virus to infect animals outside its original range. For example, scientists believe that it was a mutation to Sars-COV-2 strain responsible for COVID-19 that allowed it to infect humans over other animal carriers. Though currently scientists are still uncovering the facts, some speculate bats or pangolins may be the culprit.
As time passes, these changes can affect transmission rates or even impact the severity of infection. And as we continue to combat COVID-19 today, it’s these changes scientists are studying to help fight against future mutations.
However, as coronaviruses are not in fact new to research, scientists have had the benefit of studying their nature for quite some time. In truth, this is not the first time society has battled one of the coronavirus family members. Other coronaviruses have evolved to infect humans, such as the SARS respiratory illness that affected much of Asia in 2002 and MERS in the Middle East during 2012.
For the viral strain that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002, it utilized the ACE2 receptor commonly found in the epithelial cells of the lung for entry. This mechanism holds true in Sars-COV-2 strains today. Consequently, individuals with compromised lung health (i.e. history of smoking, hypertension, diabetes) are faced with an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Upon entry, this receptor is damaged from the virus leading to significant issues in blood pressure regulation and oxygenation to lung tissue. Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 occur from this transaction.
Each of these coronaviruses affects the upper respiratory system causing patients to exhibit similar flu-like symptoms. As scientists have worked to study the progression of the disease, learning SARS and COVID-19 have similar mechanisms has helped scientists to build a clearer foundation of knowledge of the virus.
Fortunately, scientists have the benefit of not starting from scratch to map an entirely new virus. By comparing past research on familial coronavirus lines, there is an incredible opportunity to expand on decades of research to improve COVID-19 defense.
And where science builds the how, innovators in biotechnology build the way to a stronger tomorrow.
Using research-backed techniques and employing state-of-the-art technology for a bolder, more resilient future – Integrity Laboratories is devoted to defying the status quo.