Coronavirus Epidemic That Struck Asia 20000 Years Ago Helped Build Immunity?

by Sushree Mohanty

Coronavirus Epidemic That Struck Asia 20000 Years Ago Helped Build Immunity?

July 1, 2021

Scientists and researchers have found that 42 human genes underwent evolution approximately 20,000 years ago in East Asia to battle coronavirus infections. Those genes could be of crucial significance for the pandemic we are facing right now.

The Existence of the Ancient Coronavirus

Researchers were surprised to have found shreds of evidence related to the coronavirus epidemic. It swept more than half of East Asia around 20,000 years ago. That epidemic was so devastating for ancient East Asia that it left an evolutionary imprint on the DNA of their descendants.

The new research points out that around 20,000 years ago, coronavirus had plagued the eastern region of Asia for many years. Researchers believe that these new findings are crucial and could have shocking implications regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it isn’t an easy task to look into the family history of people whose ancestors might have suffered or had to strengthen their immunity against the pathogens of the ancient coronavirus epidemic.

Coronavirus epidemic hit East Asia 20,000 years ago

Coronavirus Variants

Over the past two decades, three coronaviruses, namely Covid-19, SARS, and MERS, have successfully infected humans and have caused severe respiratory disease. 

After tons of research and studies, researchers assumed that all these variants of coronaviruses had initially jumped or transferred into human species from bats or other mammals, infecting and causing mild fever.

However, researchers did not directly observe these viruses becoming human pathogens. They only built a hypothesis and relied on indirect clues.

Significant Findings

David Enard, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, published an article entitled “What is going on right now might be going on for generations and generations.”

Dr. Enard and his biologists’ team had faith in implementing a new method that focused on the effects on the DNA of their human hosts instead of analyzing the genes of the coronaviruses. However, it provides a resistive power to the human body against a virus when a new mutation happens.

Viruses undergo a massive evolutionary change over generations in the human genome. The new mutations that the coronaviruses gained at regular rates had helped scientists to compare their genetic variation. The comparison, however, makes studies and research possible to understand and determine the coronaviruses’ divergence from an ancestor.

Although it seemed the new mutations have always helped humans to stand firm against coronavirus variants, the viruses can evolve their proteins and the resultant infection. The pathogens can also grow and change their consequent impacts to overcome the human host’s defenses.

In this image obtained March 12, 2020 courtesy of The National Institutes of Health(NIH)/NIAD-RML shows a scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab, SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the US. - The pharmaceutical firm Regeneron on July 6, 2020 announced it was entering the late stages of its human clinical trials investigating a drug to both treat and prevent COVID-19. The drug, called REGN-COV2, is a combination of two antibodies that block the coronavirus' "spike protein" which it uses to invade human cells.

42 human genes in Eastern Asia had a Dominant Version of the Mutation

Dr Enard and his colleagues have found a human genome to analyze the patterns of genetic variation and reconstruct an array of ancient predominant viruses. When the recent pandemic struck the globe, the researchers were curious to search about the ancient viruses that might have left a distinctive mark on the human genes.

The researchers compared the DNA of thousands across 26 different populations with the ancient tide of coronavirus pathogens. The researchers found that 42 human genes in Eastern Asia had a dominant version of the mutation resistant to coronavirus disease-causing viruses. They also found that 42 of them had the same number of mutation occurrences in their genes.

“When we compared them to populations around the world, we couldn’t find a similar signal,” said Yassine Souilmi, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia and a co-author of the new study. 

The new study suggests that some of the human population who adapted their body against the ancient viruses belonged to the eastern region of Asia. That means the mutation had limited itself to an area.

Researchers estimated the genes that had been through evolution, developing their antiviral mutations around 20,000 years ago. It is pretty surprising because, during that time frame, East Asians lived in small groups following the hunter-gatherers civilization instead of dwelling in communities.


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