Since COVID-19 began its menacing march across Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and then across the world, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has taken a “whatever works” strategy to ensure its replication and spread.
Since COVID-19 began its menacing march across Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and then across the world, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has taken a “whatever works” strategy to ensure its replication and spread. But in a new study published in Evolutionary Bioinformatics, University of Illinois researchers and students show the virus is honing the tactics that may make it more successful and more stable.
A group of graduate students in a spring-semester Bioinformatics and Systems Biology class at Illinois tracked the mutation rate in the virus’s proteome – the collection of proteins encoded by genetic material – through time, starting with the first SARS-CoV-2 genome published in January and ending more than 15,300 genomes later in May.
The team found some regions still actively spinning off new mutations, indicating continuing adaptation to the host environment. But the mutation rate in other regions showed signs of slowing, coalescing around single versions of key proteins.
“That is bad news. The virus is changing and changing, but it is keeping the things that are most useful or interesting for itself,” says Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, professor of bioinformatics in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois and senior author on the study.
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