A new study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution reveals that human bodies are mutating the COVID-19 virus and that the pathogen is fighting back. According to a team of researchers from the University of Bath and the University of Edinburgh in the UK, the discovery that humans are mutating the virus could help in the formulation of vaccines that are designed to cure the disease.
Given that the defensive mechanism of the human body is enabling COVID-19 to mutate, the virus is getting stronger in a new form to attack the human body and infect other people. While it is natural for all organisms to mutate over a period of time through a random process, the kind of mutation observed with SARS-CoV-2 is of natural selection.
“In the case of SARS-CoV-2, mutation may well not be a random process and that instead humans are mutating it, as part of a defense mechanism to degrade the virus,” the researchers wrote. “Natural selection – survival of the fittest – is allowing the virus to fight back against the mutational process.”
Lead author Professor Laurence Hurst, director of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, said that he found the type of mutation with COVID-19 virus “strong and strange,” adding that the process is not showing bias as is the usual case with other viruses. He posited that understanding what the mutation factors favor and disfavor would be “really helpful in understanding what an attenuated version should look like.”
In a related development, a study published in Nature by scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Gottingen, and the University of Bonn, Germany, states that malaria drug chloroquine is not effective at inhibiting COVID-19 infection in human lung cells. According to the Infection Biology Unit of the German Primate Center (DPZ), repurposing malaria drug chloroquine for the treatment of coronavirus is unwise because there is no concrete proof that it works and will ever work.
Although there is research evidence that the drug worked in preventing coronavirus infection in the kidney cells of the African green monkey, there is no evidence that it will work in preventing the spread in human lung cells where the disease attacks. Stefan Pöhlmann, head of the Infection Biology Unit at DPZ, said researchers should, therefore, focus priority vaccine attention on lung cells for efficacy tests.
“In this study, we show that the antiviral activity of chloroquine is cell type-specific and that chloroquine does not block the infection of lung cells,” Pöhlmann wrote. “This means that in future tests of potential COVID-19 drugs, care should be taken that relevant cell lines are used for the investigations in order not to waste unnecessary time and resources in our search for effective COVID-19 therapeutics.”