From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : COVID 19
Mains level : Global pandemics and their mitiagtion strategies
Scientists across the world are trying to develop a line of treatment and a possible vaccine for COVID-19. However, with the most optimistic timelines we don’t see a line of treatment or vaccine arriving before next year.
Genome sequencing of Coronavirus
- A global effort is on to collect and analyse the genetic composition of the new virus, which would be key to developing a cure and a vaccine.
- Genome sequence is the unique code of genetic material of any organism, and determines the characteristic of any organism.
- Whole genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome at a single time.
- The gene composition of novel coronavirus, for instance, is different from that of the influenza virus. Every organism has a unique genome sequence.
- Laboratories in various countries have been isolating and sharing the genome sequences of the virus on an international platform.
Why are so many genome sequences being isolated?
- When viruses multiply, or reproduce, there is a copying mechanism that transfers the gene information to the next generation.
- However, no copying mechanism is perfect. When the virus multiplies, there will be small changes, which are called mutations.
- These mutations accumulate over time, and after prolonged periods, are responsible for evolution into new organisms.
- Within a single reproduction, the changes are extremely minor. More than 95 per cent of the gene structure remains the same.
How it helps scientists?
- However, the small changes that occur are crucial to understanding the nature and behaviour of the organism.
- In this case, for example, the small changes could provide scientists with information about the origin, transmission, and impact of the virus on the patient.
- It could also hold clues to the differing effects the virus could have on patients with different health parameters.
How many genome sequences are required?
- India has far fewer positive cases compared to China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, or even the US.
- Patients who have been infected with the virus in similar conditions are unlikely to show any significant changes in the genome sequences.
- Patients with existing medical conditions could be other candidates from where genome sequences of this virus could be isolated.
- This could help scientists to look for clues to possible impact of virus amidst those existing medical conditions.
Currently, what is the most effective medication?
- As of now, there is none such. Right now, drugs are being repurposed, meaning old drugs for similar diseases are being checked for their efficacy against COVID-19.
- These drugs, if they work, will require clinical trials, and then can be made widely available for people.
- In most cases, symptomatic treatment for fever, body ache, and cough will be sufficient. More severe cases will require oxygen and respiratory support.