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Genetic insight holds promise of Covid-19 vaccine

Detailed knowledge of the genetic code of the novel coronavirus could support efforts to develop a vaccine.

Vaccination
Insights into the DNA of the coronavirus could help develop a vaccine.

Insights into the genetic makeup of the virus behind Covid-19 could help develop vaccines and possible treatments for infection.

Key characteristics of the genetic code of the coronavirus – known as SARS-CoV-2 – could point to ways in which it could be modified for use in vaccines, or could highlight suitable targets for drug treatments.

The findings, from a study by Roslin scientists, also shed light on the origins of the virus.

Genetic patterns

Researchers trawled the coronavirus’ genetic sequence, comprised of many thousands of biological components labelled C, G, A and T, for rare instances where C is followed by G.

The low frequency of CG pairs is a feature of many coronaviruses, which they share with the organisms of the people and animals that they infect.

This similarity enables viruses to avoid detection by the immune system, and establish infection.

Researchers hope their findings will inform development of a vaccine for Covid-19 through the addition of extra CG pairs at key points of the virus’ genome, to make it less harmful when introduced to the body.

Drug treatments

Researchers also discovered two regions of the coronavirus’ genetic code that have a relatively high proportion of CG pairs.

These are likely to be important for the virus to function, as they have been retained over many generations, whereas other CG pairs have been lost. This suggests that targeting these regions with drug treatments could prevent the virus from working.

Better understanding of the virus’ genetic makeup has shone light on its ancestry, showing that it most likely infected bats prior to affecting people.

Key characteristics in the genome of viruses can offer a way to adapt them for use in effective, safe vaccines. Our insights into the novel coronavirus should aid efforts towards a vaccine, and also gives us valuable understanding of its origins.

Dr Eleanor GauntRoslin Institute

The study is published in Virus Evolution.

Read the paper: Intra-genome variability in the dinucleotide composition of SARS-CoV-2

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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Image credit: CDC on Unsplash