‘Silent’ Mutations May Give SARS-CoV-2 an Evolutionary Edge:
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Researchers at Duke University have identified a number of "silent" mutations in the roughly 30,000 letters of the SARS-CoV-2 virus's genetic code that helped it thrive once it made the leap -- and possibly helped set the stage for the global pandemic.

For the study, published Oct. 16 in the journal PeerJ, the researchers flagged mutations that altered the spike proteins, suggesting that viral strains carrying these mutations were more likely to thrive.

But with their approach, team also identified additional culprits that previous studies failed to detect.

The researchers report that so-called silent mutations in two other regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, dubbed Nsp4 and Nsp16, appear to have given the virus a biological edge over previous strains without altering the proteins they encode.

Instead of affecting proteins, the changes likely affected how the virus's genetic material folds up into 3-D shapes and functions inside human cells.

What these changes in RNA structure might have done to set the SARS-CoV-2 virus in humans apart from other coronaviruses is still unknown.

But they may have contributed to the virus's ability to spread before people even know they have it -- a crucial difference that made the current situation so much more difficult to control than the SARS coronavirus outbreak of 2003.

The research could lead to new molecular targets for treating or preventing COVID-19, study authors Berrio said.

Source: https://today.duke.edu/2020/10/silent-mutations-gave-coronavirus-evolutionary-edge
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