Knowing the Enemy to Fight the COVID-19 War
Genome tree of more than 300 Sars-Cov-2 virus sequences globally (as at 12 March 2020).
Credit: Dr Suma Tiruvayipati, A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), Dr. Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Deputy Executive Director of Research, A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII), and Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID)
Scientific and epidemiologic knowledge on COVID-19 can bring us closer to unravelling the mysteries surrounding this virus, and lead us to develop potential strategies to prevent and treat the disease it causes.
In an interview with the Straits Times, Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Deputy Executive Director of Research at A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII), explained that although the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is genetically similar to SARS, and comes from the same family, the two viruses have key differences. This emerged from an analysis by BII scientists for GISAID, an initiative which promotes the international sharing of all influenza virus sequences. The scientists examined a key surface protein on the virus which binds to a receptor, allowing it to infect animals and sometimes people. They found that it shares 76 per cent of its genetic material with SARS in this protein, but was not closely related enough to be exactly like Sars. Dr Maurer-Stroh’s laboratory is leveraging its capabilities to analyse the virus in greater detail to identify more of its traits.
Prof Lisa Ng was part of the team at A*STAR that developed a kit which could test for the SARS virus in patient blood samples in 2003. (Credit: The Straits Times)
In interviews with the Straits Times and Channel News Asia, Prof Ng, who was part of the team at A*STAR that developed a kit which could test for the SARS virus in patient samples, highlighted the importance of knowing how the virus works and how the human body reacts to it, in order to find a cure and vaccine for the virus. She explained that the immune system’s response to viruses is complex. Guided by basic understanding of biology, immunology and patient physiology, Prof Ng is analysing samples from patients in Singapore, and works closely with clinicians and healthcare workers who interact directly with patients