[RESEARCH] COVID-19: Genetic network analysis traced origins of the pandemic

Phylogenetic network of 160 SARS-CoV-2 genomes


Researchers from Cambridge, UK, and Germany published a research report on several variants and transmission routes of the new coronavirus. The team reconstructed the early “evolutionary paths” of COVID-19 in humans – using genetic network techniques.

A total of 160 complete virus genomes collected from around the world from 24 December 2019 to 4 March 2020 as the infection spread from Wuhan out to Europe and North America. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences on Thursday.

The report pointed out that the new coronavirus is divided into three variants: A, B, C. Type A viruses are more commonly found in infected people in the United States and Australia. There are only a few cases of type A in Wuhan, and they come from Americans who have lived in Wuhan. Type A is most similar to viruses extracted from bats and pangolins. Researchers described type A virus as “the root of the outbreak.”

Type B strains are the main type in Wuhan, China and have not spread out of East Asia. Type C viruses are the main type in Europe, found in early patients from France, Italy, Sweden and England. It was not found in mainland China but appears in Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. Researchers believe that strain C type evolved from B, and type B evolved from A.

“The Wuhan B-type virus could be immunologically or environmentally adapted to a large section of the East Asian population. It may need to mutate to overcome resistance outside East Asia. We seem to see a slower mutation rate in East Asia than elsewhere, in this initial phase.

The viral network we have detailed is a snapshot of the early stages of an epidemic before the evolutionary paths of COVID-19 become obscured by vast numbers of mutations. It’s like catching an incipient supernova in the act.”

Dr. Peter Forster, Geneticist & Lead Author, University of Cambridge

The research methods used by the researchers have previously been mainly used to track the movement of prehistoric people through DNA research. This is the first time it has been used to track the propagation path of the new coronavirus.

Source: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/covid-19-genetic-network-analysis-provides-snapshot-of-pandemic-origins

Link to the paper: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/04/07/2004999117

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