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IIT Madras researchers are studying the high transmission potential of coronavirus

IIT Madras researchers are studying the high transmission rate and mortality of SARS-CoV-2, the scientific name for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Using computational tools, the team studied its two close variants — SARS-CoV and NL63.

The team set out to understand how the spike proteins (which enables the coronavirus to penetrate human cells and cause Covid-19) of these different virus strains are interacting with the ACE2 receptors of human cells and how this interaction is affecting their transmission potential and severity of the disease

‘SARS-CoV’ can be considered a ‘sibling’ of the subfamily beta coronavirus ‘SARS-CoV-2.’ The ‘NL63’ belongs to sub-family alpha coronavirus can be considered as a ‘cousin’ of SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV is more severe than SARS-CoV-2 whereas NL63 shows milder symptoms than SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2.

The scientists set out to find the reason behind the mildness and severity of disease caused by these viruses. From the previous studies, it was realized that all three viruses gain entry to the human cell via ACE2 receptors which are present on human cells.

The research findings of this study have been published in the reputed peer-reviewed international journal Proteins: Structure, Function, “Our effort is to find answers to these questions to an extent possible by studying the interaction mechanism of these viruses with the organs of the human body,” the professor said.

About the IIT Madras research team

The research team was led by Prof. M Michael Gromiha, Department of Biotechnology, Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, IIT Madras, Dr. Puneet Rawat and Dr. Sherlyn Jemimah, Research Scholars from IIT Madras. The team collaborated with Prof. PK Ponnuswamy, Former Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras, and Madurai Kamaraj University and Professor, Department of Physics, Bharathidasan University in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, for this study.

What was the purpose of the study?

Elaborating on the objectives of the study, Prof. M Michael Gromiha, Department of Biotechnology, Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, IIT Madras, said, “Coronaviruses are not new to humans. Coronavirus such as NL63 causes only mild symptoms.”

“There exist some common functional aspects among NL63 and viruses such as SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, both of which are relatively severe,” he added.

He mentioned that this brought up several questions, like:

i) Have these viruses evolved from the same ancestor?

ii) Why do they cause different mortality rates?

iii) What is the extent of similarity/difference(s) among these viruses?

iv) If we have immunity for mild NL63, then is it possible that we may have some degree of immunity towards the wild ones, SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-2?

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