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A coronavirus epidemic broke out 20,000 yrs ago too & this is the impact it had on the world

Study says ancestors of people from what is now China, Japan, Mongolia, N Korea, S Korea & Taiwan experienced an epidemic of a coronavirus-induced disease similar to Covid-19.

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New Delhi: Scientists have discovered a coronavirus epidemic that broke out in East Asia over 20,000 years ago — an event that influenced the genes of the people from that region.

Over the last two decades, there have been several coronavirus epidemics. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated in China in 2002, killed more than 800 people. MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, killed more than 850 people. And now, SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19 infection, has killed more than 3.8 million people across the world so far.

A new study in the journal Current Biology has now shown that a large coronavirus epidemic once broke out over 20,000 years ago.

The event left traces in the human genome, allowing the team from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), University of Arizona, University of California San Francisco, and the University of Adelaide to find evidence of the epidemic.

“The modern human genome contains evolutionary information tracing back tens of thousands of years, like studying the rings of a tree gives us insight into the conditions it experienced as it grew,” Kirill Alexandrov from QUT said in a statement.


Also read: AY.1 — The new Covid variant on world radar stems from Delta variant, linked to immune escape


What the research reveals

The researchers used data from the 1000 Genomes Project — a public catalogue of common human genetic variations — and looked at the changes in the human genes coding for SARS-CoV-2 interacting proteins.

They then used a computational model to synthesise both human and SARS-CoV-2 proteins. The research found that the mechanism that coronaviruses use for invading human cells have remained the same for thousands of years.

The research revealed the ancestors of people from what is now China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan experienced an epidemic of a coronavirus-induced disease similar to Covid-19.

As a result of the epidemic, the human genome underwent changes that possibly led to the body developing an ability to fight off severe diseases from such viruses.

The study helps gain an understanding of how genomes of different human populations adapted to the viruses that have been recently recognised as a significant driver of human evolution.

The research may also help identify viruses that have caused epidemics in the distant past.

“This, in principle, enables us to compile a list of potentially dangerous viruses and then develop diagnostics, vaccines and drugs for the event of their return,” Alexandrov said.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)


Also read: Why Covid drug Ivermectin remains popular despite warnings & lack of evidence on efficacy


 

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