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Covid-19: Scientists identify human genes that fight infection

Otautahi – Scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California have identified a set of human genes that fight SARS-CoV-2 infection, the virus that causes covid-19.

Knowing which genes help control viral infection can greatly assist researchers’ understanding of factors that affect disease severity and also suggest possible therapeutic options. The genes in question are related to interferons, the body’s frontline virus fighters.

The study was published in the Molecular Cell journal, Science Daily says.

“We wanted to gain a better understanding of the cellular response to SARS-CoV-2, including what drives a strong or weak response to infection,” Dr Sumit  Chanda, professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys says.

“We’ve gained new insights into how the virus exploits the human cells it invades, but we are still searching for its Achille’s heel so that we can develop optimal antivirals.”

Soon after the start of the covid pandemic, clinicians found that a weak interferon response to SARS-CoV-2 infection resulted in some of the more severe cases of covid-19.

This knowledge led Professor Chanda and his collaborators to search for the human genes that are triggered by interferons, known as interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), which act to limit SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Based on knowledge gleaned from SARS-CoV-1, the virus that caused a deadly, but relatively brief, outbreak of disease from 2002 to 2004, and knowing that it was similar to SARS-CoV-2, the investigators were able to develop laboratory experiments to identify the interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) that control viral replication in covid-19.

They found that 65 ISGs controlled SARS-CoV-2 infection, including some that inhibited the virus’ ability to enter cells, some that suppressed manufacture of the RNA that is the virus’s lifeblood.

Their research also showed a cluster of genes that inhibited assembly of the virus. What was of great interest was the fact that some of the ISGs exhibited control across unrelated viruses, such as seasonal flu, West Nile and HIV, which leads to AIDS.

The researchers still need to learn more about the biology of the virus and investigate if genetic variability within these ISGs correlates with covid-19 severity.

They will next look at the biology of SARS-CoV-2 variants that continue to evolve and threaten vaccine efficacy. They have already started gathering variants for laboratory investigation.

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