The ancient coronavirus that could decimate East Asia 25,000 years ago

When news about covid-19 began to reach our media more than a year ago, to most Spaniards it sounded like Chinese –And never better said– the word coronavirus. As the weeks passed, we internalized that concept, remembering what SARS was and seeing how the new coronavirus was dangerously approaching our borders.

And suddenly that word that we had no idea about became the center of our lives. But, although it sounds like something of our time, An ancient coronavirus may have swept east Asia 25,000 years ago, according to a new study.

Study of the genomes of 26 human populations

Using information available in a public database, the University of Arizona professor of ecology David enard and his team have analyzed the genomes of 2,504 people in 26 different human populations around the world. The findings published in ‘bioRxiv’ and have not yet been peer-reviewed.

When coronaviruses enter human cells, they 'hijack' the cells' machinery to replicate. That means that the success of a virus depends on its interactions with hundreds of different human proteins. The researchers found a set of 420 human proteins known to interact with coronaviruses, 332 of which interact with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19. Most of these proteins help the virus to replicate within cells, but some help the cell to fight the virus.

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The genes that encode these proteins mutate constantly and randomly, collects "Live Science". But if a mutation gives a gene an advantage, such as a better ability to fight a virus, you have a better chance of pass to the next generation or to be selected.

In this sense, the study found that in people of East Asian descent, They had certain genes what is known that interact with coronaviruses.

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In other words, over time, certain variants appeared more frequently than might be expected by chance in this population group. This set of mutations probably helped the ancestors of this population to become more resistant to the coronavirus ancient by altering the amount of these proteins produced by cells.

The researchers found that the genetic variants that encoded 42 of the 420 proteins they analyzed began to increase in frequency about 25,000 years ago. The spread of advantageous variants continued until about 5,000 years ago, suggesting that the ancient virus continued to threaten these populations for a long time.

Coronavirus: the most plausible explanation

"Viruses exert some of the strongest selective pressures on humans to adapt and presumably coronaviruses have been around for a long time before humans existed," he explains. Joel wertheim, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who was not part of the study. "So even though not unexpectedly that coronaviruses would have driven adaptation in humans, this study presents fascinating research on how and when it developed, "says Wertheim in statements collected by 'Live Science'.

Still, "it is very difficult to say whether the virus that caused this evolution was also a coronavirus, but seems like a plausible working theory", says the teacher.

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Along these lines, Enard agrees that the ancient pathogen that plagued our ancestors might not have been a coronavirus; but in the case of not being it, it can having been another type of virus who interacted with human cells in the same way that coronaviruses do.

Enard and his team await collaborate with virologists to understand how these adaptations helped ancient humans survive exposure to this primeval coronavirus.

Although we see these marks of the impact of this probable ancient coronavirus on people's ancestors, future generations may not be able to see traces of SARS-CoV-2 in our genomeEnard adds. Thanks to vaccination, the virus will not have time to drive evolutionary adaptation, he concludes.