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A coronavirus pandemic already ravaged China 20,000 years ago and the evidence is in the DNA of its inhabitants

An international study has discovered remnants of the epidemic in the genome of current populations in the East Asian area

In the last 20 years there have been three epidemic outbreaks in the area whose culprits have been coronavirus

The conclusions of the researchers is that this virus evolved towards less serious variants

An international study has found that uA coronavirus epidemic broke out in the East Asia region more than 20,000 years ago, and whose traces are evident in the genetic makeup of the inhabitants of that area.

Professor Kirill Alexandrov, from the CSIRO-QUT Synthetic Biology Alliance and the Center for Genomics and Personalized Health at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), in Australia, is part of a team of researchers from the University of Arizona, the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Adelaide who have published their results in the journal ‘Current Biology‘.

In the last 20 years there have been three severe epidemic coronavirus outbreaks:

SARS-CoV which gave rise to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which originated in China in 2002 and which killed more than 800 people.
The MERS-CoV which led to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which killed more than 850 people.
SARS-CoV-2 that gave rise to COVID-19, which has killed 3.8 million people.

Now this new study of the evolution of the human genome has revealed that another great coronavirus epidemic broke out thousands of years before. “The modern human genome contains evolutionary information dating back tens of thousands of years, just as studying the rings of a tree gives us insight into the conditions it experienced while growing up,” notes Professor Alexandrov.

In the study, the researchers used data from the 1000 Genomes Project, which is the largest public catalog of common human genetic variation, and they looked at changes in human genes that encode proteins that interact with SARS-CoV-2.

Then, synthesized human and SARS-CoV-2 proteins, without using living cells, and showed that they interacted directly and specifically, pointing out the conserved nature of the mechanism that coronaviruses use for cell invasion.

“The team’s computer scientists applied evolutionary analysis to the human genomic data set to discover evidence that the ancestors of East Asian peoples experienced an epidemic of a disease induced by a coronavirus similar to COVID-19“, notes Professor Alexandrov.

The peoples of East Asia come from lthe area that today is China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan. “Over the course of the epidemic, selection favored variants of human genes related to pathogenesis, with adaptive changes that presumably led to less severe disease,” Alexandrov continues.

“By developing a greater understanding of ancient viral enemies, we gained an understanding of how the genomes of different human populations adapted to viruses that have recently been recognized as an important engine of human evolution,” he notes. Important to this research is the ability to identify viruses that have caused epidemics in the distant past and that could do so in the future. ”

“This, in principle, allows us to collect a list of potentially dangerous viruses and then develop diagnostics, vaccines and drugs in case they come back, “he concludes.

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