Exclusive | Not enough evidence to indicate Coronavirus has a separate Indian strain: NCBS chief

NCBS studying information on the sequences ICMR has released, says Satyajit Mayor

March 25, 2020 03:09 pm | Updated 08:41 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Director of National Center for Biological Sciences, Satyajit Mayor. | File

Director of National Center for Biological Sciences, Satyajit Mayor. | File

There isn’t enough scientific evidence yet to indicate that SARS-CoV-2 or the Novel Coronavirus has a separate Indian strain and the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) was working with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to better understand the virus, Director of the Bangalore-based NCBS Satyajit Mayor has said.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, he said: “There is reasonable evidence that this could be a zoonotic intrusion, the implications being that this has occurred because of random mutation where humans are more prone to get infected. I don’t think we know yet that this is a different strain from what we have seen in other countries like China, the U.S. and Italy.”

The NCBS was studying information on the sequences the ICMR had released. “Viruses mutate quickly, and there is a lot of research we can do here [on the strain in Indian]. You can’t bottle up a virus like this and so, while we can’t yet say this has spread in the community, we need to be aware of the impact in India,” he said.

“We cannot prevent the spread of a virus like this but what we can do is to slow it down. We can also learn from the experience from other countries in these 40 days and if we can flatten the curve, and slow its spread, then we will be able cope with,’’ he noted.

Last week, a U.S. advocacy group and a Texas company filed a $ 20 trillion lawsuit against the Chinese government and Director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) Shi Zhengli in particular for the alleged “creation and the release of the novel coronavirus” that had been “prepared and stockpiled as a biological weapon.”

Shi Zhengli is also among the authors of a US Department of Defence funded study on Filovirus (of which Ebola is a member) in Nagaland. The study came under the scanner recently as two of the 12 researchers belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s (WIV) Department of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and it was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and they would have required special permissions as foreign entities.

Nagaland study

Mr. Mayor maintained that the WIV was not directly involved in the Nagaland study and that they were listed co-authors only because they supplied reagents. “This is a standard practice for scientific authorship. Yes there was an inquiry and now we have an all-clear from the government, which stated that no laws were flouted.”

Mr. Mayor explained that study of bats was a vital link in understanding the SARS-family. “Bats are an interesting mammal to study because they carry so many viruses without getting sick. So the basic concept, idea and technology in their study remain the same.”

The U.S. lawsuit contends that COVID-19 is an extremely dangerous disease because it has an extremely aggressive nature, designed to mutate from person to person, spreads very quickly and easily and is about “ten times as deadly as the flu.’’

Reacting to this, Mr. Mayor said there was “little evidence thus far that this was a bioweapon of any kind.”

This, he stated, was also a partly man-made problem. “With human intrusion into forest habitat, climate change and global warming, unpredictable behaviour by nature is only understandable. We as a species are not innocent in this crisis,’’ he added.

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