Research team completes genetic map of coronavirus


An Institute for Basic Science research team has analyzed all genetic information to pinpoint the exact location of the gene of SARS-COV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. (Institute for Basic Science)

By Lee Hana

A research team has completed a high-resolution genetic map for SARS-COV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, a finding that could contribute to the development of diagnostic reagents that eventually produces a cure.  

The Institute for Basic Science (IBS) announced on April 9 that its ribonucleic acid (RNA) research team headed by Seoul National University professors Kim V. Narry and Chang Hye-sik, in a joint study with the National Institute of Health, achieved this result. Details of the research's outcome were uploaded on the same day to the online edition of Cell, a peer-reviewed scientific journal for research papers on life sciences. 

The team used next-generation analytical methods to analyze the coronavirus' transcriptome, the set of all RNA molecules in one cell or a population of cells, to pinpoint the exact location of the coronavirus gene. In addition to detailing the structure of SARS-COV-2, the team also discovered numerous new RNAs and multiple unknown chemical modifications on viral RNAs. 

SARS-COV-2 is a coronavirus made up of RNAs. When entering the host cell, the coronavirus replicates RNAs containing genetic info while producing sub-genetic RNAs that create a number of structural proteins. The replicated RNAs and proteins combine to become progeny virions that escape from the cell and infect other cells. The group of RNAs produced inside the host cell are called the transcriptome.

In its study, the team experimentally identified sub-genetic RNA produced from genetic RNAs and analyzed all genetic data on each transcriptome, pinpointing where genes are located in genetic RNAs. 

"We have to work on the newly discovered RNA modifications to confirm if they play a role in virus replication and immune response. It appears the chemical modifications are related to the survival and immune responses of the virus," Kim said.

"These RNAs and RNA variations could be candidates for new targets when developing antiviral treatment. We were able to grasp exactly how the SARS-COV-2 transcriptome is constructed, and will use this knowledge to improve our diagnostic method for polymerase chain reaction (PCR)."


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