While the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic so far has remained linked to natural factors, recent research led by Chinese and European scientists raises new questions about the origin. the scientists found that the coronavirus has a mutation very similar to HIV that could be 1,000 times stronger than SARS.
According to the South China Morning Post, a team of researchers from Nankai University in Tianjin, China, looked at the sequence of the coronavirus genome and found a section of mutated genes that did not exist in SARS, although similar to those found in HIV and Ebola.
Previous studies determined that SARS was able to combine with a receptor protein on a cell membrane after it entered a person. However, the bodies of healthy people do not produce ACE2 in large amounts, which helped bring the 2002-2003 outbreak under control.
Research recently published by Indian scientists from the Acharya Narendra Dev College Institute of Technology and the University of Delhi, determined that the Wuhan coronavirus has a design similar to that of HIV AIDS and that is absent in viruses such as SARS.
“We found 4 insertions in the spike glycoprotein (S), which are unique to the 2019-nCoV and are not present in other coronaviruses. Importantly, amino acid residues in all the 4 inserts have identity or similarity to those in the HIV-1 gp120 or HIV-1 Gag,” the research details.
According to the conclusions of the study, it is very unlikely that the virus has acquired these characteristics naturally in a short period of time, as reported by GreatGameIndia.
Meanwhile, the research conducted by the Chinese scientists, detailed, “This finding suggests that 2019-nCoV [the new coronavirus] may be significantly different from the SARS coronavirus in the infection pathway. This virus may use the packing mechanisms of other viruses such as HIV.”
Viruses such as HIV and Ebola target an enzyme known as furin, which functions as a protein activator in the human body, some of which are in an inactive state when produced and must be “cut” at specific points to activate their functions, according to the South China Morning Post.
In particular, the COVID-19 virus uses spiked proteins, which are normally inactive, as an extension, in order to bind to the host cell.
“The cleavage site structure’s job is to trick the human furin protein, so it will cut and activate the spike protein and cause a “direct fusion” of the viral and cellular membranes,” South China Morning Post stated.
Unlike the way SARS is activated, this binding method is “100 to 1,000” times more efficient, according to the study that was published on the website Chinaxiv.org, a platform used by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
In view of the alarming dimensions that the virus has achieved in China and other countries, the Chinese authorities, as well as in Japan, have been providing infected patients with various drugs that serve as treatment for people infected with HIV.
However, Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, who pioneered drug trials in the wake of the massive Ebola outbreak in West Africa, said there is uncertainty about the effectiveness of the drugs being tested.
“Nobody honestly knows. Most drugs that go into trials prove to be not effective. It is the more common outcome. One should be very cautious,” Horby said, according to The Guardian.
Horby said that if the drugs are not given under strict testing conditions “we end up where we were after the 2009 [influenza] pandemic.”
Since the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, the theory held by several researchers suggests that the virus was transmitted by bats, which in turn infected other specimens such as pangolins before records of the first human infections at the Wuhan animal market were known.