China publishes genome sequencing data

Context

China has released genome sequencing data for the Coronavirus responsible for a recent outbreak in Beijing, with the WHO and the Global Influenza Data Initiative (GISAID).

About

  • The Beijing genome data was based on three samples - two human and one environmental 
  • According to preliminary genomic and epidemiological study results, the virus is from Europe, but it is different from the virus currently spreading in Europe.
  • It's older than the virus currently spreading in Europe.
  • The first cluster of new coronavirus infections was traced to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in December.
  • It has since infected almost 8.5 million people globally. On the origins of the strain that hit Beijing, China claimed it did not originate from the Chinese capital.

What is genome sequencing?

  • Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that make up an organism's DNA.
  • The human genome is made up of over 3 billion of these genetic letters.

Genetic Sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus

  • The SARS-CoV-2 virus is primarily made of three important elements-
    • spike proteins that help the virus bind to a living cell
    • ribonucleic acid (RNA) strands that start replicating inside a living cell
    • fatty envelop that holds all the components together
  • The RNA strands can be thought of as a code that determines how the virus will behave. Coronaviruses have about 26,000 to 32,000 bases or RNA “letters” in their length.
  • The virus multiplies inside living organisms’ cells by creating copies for the RNA.
  • However, the process it uses to make these copies is not perfect, and often introduces tiny errors in the sequence of ‘letters’ — much like a game of Chinese whispers.
  • These errors are known as mutations, which can introduce slight variations in the behaviour of the virus. 

How will it help?

  • Virus genome sequencing is a vital and rapidly-developing tool in the diagnosis of the disease COVID-19 and in understanding the spread and control of the new coronavirus.
  • Genetic sequencingis important as it helps in finding drugs and vaccines, besides figuring out if there has been a mutation of the virus.
  • It is also essential to finding ways to deal with the spread of the virus.

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