New coronavirus similiar to 2002 SARS outbreak: Study

New York, Feb 1
Researchers have found that the mechanics of infection displayed by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) are similar to that of the 2002-03 SARS outbreak -- also a coronavirus.

Studies over the years show that both viruses use same enzyme to gain entry into a cell.

As compared to nearly 11,000 people infected with the new coronavirus, most in China since it emerged in December; in 2003 around 8,100 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were reported during the eight-month outbreak.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Virology, the recent emergence of coronavirus in China has put the world on high alert for transcontinental transmission, reminiscent of the outbreak of SARS.

Decade-long structural studies by Fang Li of the University of Minnesota in US, show how the SARS virus (SARS-CoV) interacts with animal and human hosts in order to infect them.

These researchers used the knowledge they gleaned from multiple SARS-CoV strains -- isolated from different hosts in different years -- and angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptors from different animal species to model predictions for the novel coronavirus. (Both viruses use ACE2 to gain entry into the cell, but it serves normally as a regulator for heart function.)

"Our structural analyses confidently predict that the Wuhan coronavirus uses ACE2 as its host receptor," the study researchers said.

According to the study, several other structural details of the new virus are consistent with the ability of the 2019 coronavirus to infect humans and with some capability to transmit among humans.

"Alarmingly, our data predict that a single mutation (at a specific spot in the genome) could significantly enhance (the Wuhan coronavirus's) ability to bind with human ACE2," the researchers said.

For this reason, 2019 coronavirus evolution in patients should be closely monitored for the emergence of novel mutations at the 501 position in its genome, and to a lesser extent, the 494 position, in order to predict the possibility of a more serious outbreak than has been seen so far.

The study provides the basic, translational and public health research communities with predictive insights that may help study and battle this novel coronavirus.

The deadly novel coronavirus outbreak has so far killed 259 people in China, besides others world wide. As of Saturday, total infected are 11,791.