Revelation: Coronavirus epidemic swept East Asia 20.000 years ago

Over the past twenty years, a number of coronavirus pandemics, such as SARS, MERS and Covid-19 has plagued humanity. However, the planet had probably experienced this threat thousands of years ago, new research shows. 

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Η international study found that a coronavirus epidemic broke out in the East Asian region more than 20.000 years before, similar to the current pandemic COVID-19.

The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, reveal that the outbreak leaves traces in the genetic makeup of humans from East Asia, an area that now includes China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan.

"The modern human genome contains evolutionary information dating back tens of thousands of years, as studying the rings of a tree gives us an idea of ​​the conditions it experienced as it grew," said Professor Kirill Alexandrov of the CSIRO-QUT Synthetic Biology Alliance.

The study states that last 20 years, coronaviruses were responsible for three major outbreaks:

  • of SARS-CoV which led to severe acute respiratory syndrome, which originated in China in 2002 and killed more than 800 people.
  • of MERS-CoV that led to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which killed more than 850 people.
  • and SARS-CoV-2 leading to COVID-19, which has so far killed 3,9 million people worldwide.

The study of the evolution of the human genome also revealed that another major coronavirus epidemic had erupted thousands of years earlier.

In the study, researchers used data from the 1000 Genomes Project, the largest public catalog of common human genetic variants and examined changes in human genes encoding proteins that interact with SARS-CoV-2.

Alexandrov, along with other researchers from Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide, the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Arizona, analyzed the genomes of more than 2.500 modern people from 26 worlds. adapt people. in historical cases of coronavirus.

Η research group found the role of a specific type of protein, known as VIP (virus-interacting protein, protein that interacts with viruses) - proteins that are part of cellular mechanisms that interact with viruses that enter the body. In the millions of years of human evolution, natural selection has led to the definition of gene variants encoding viral proteins (VIPs) at three times the rate observed for other gene classes.

In the study, researchers found signs of adaptation to 42 different human genes encoding VIP. "We found that 42 VIPs are primarily active in the lungs - the tissue most affected by coronaviruses - and confirmed that they interact directly with the current pandemic virus." , added Souilmi.

Through this study the researchers obtained a understanding about how the genomes of different human populations have adapted to viruses that have recently been identified as an important factor in human evolution.

"Another important result of this research is the ability to detect viruses that have caused an epidemic in the distant past and may do so in the future. This, in turn, allows us to compile a list of potentially dangerous viruses and then develop diagnostics, vaccines and medicines for the case of their return ", concluded Alexandrov.