SARS-CoV-2 not the last virus to spark a pandemic, says expert

Next such virus could be a ‘MERS-2’, warns Professor of Microbiology Susan Weiss

Updated - October 10, 2020 10:07 am IST

Published - October 09, 2020 09:50 pm IST - NEW DELHI

PCR tests are conducted daily at a testing centre in Chennai. File

PCR tests are conducted daily at a testing centre in Chennai. File

The SARS-CoV-2 wouldn’t be the last such virus of its kind — in terms of its ability to rapidly spread among people — and the next such virus of its kind could be a “MERS-2” even (a reference to the Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus that is more lethal but less contagious), said Susan Weiss, Professor of Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

Prof. Weiss was the key note speaker at the first TNQ-Janelia India COVID-19 Seminar, 2020. The first of the three online-only talks commenced on Friday.

Also read: Protection against SARS-CoV-2 may be short-lived

Also participating were Shahid Jameel, virologist and Director, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, and Satyajit Mayor, Director, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.

The SARS-CoV-2 viruses, said Prof. Weiss, used multiple paths of entry to gain access to the cell and multiply. However, all the evidence pointed to the virus having evolved naturally and was not the results of being manufactured in a lab as it was highly unlikely that somebody would design the specific mutations that allowed the virus to so efficiently target the human host cells, she emphasised.

Also read: Coronavirus | Different kinds of SARS-CoV-2 exist in India but none more lethal than the other: Indian Academy of Sciences President

Persistent danger

Dr. Jameel underlined that though the number of cases in India were declining over the last three weeks, there was no room for complacency as the country was contributing nearly 24% of the global caseload as well as a similar fraction of deaths.

There were several collaborative studies underway in India looking at whether particular variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus were responsible for a higher death toll, but so far, there was no clinching link there were so, said Dr. Mayor.

Also read: Watch | How long does SARS-CoV-2 stay potent?

The seminar is the first of three that will held through October. In the past, the seminars have hosted Nobel Laureates including Venki Ramakrishnan and Shinya Yamanaka. Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California, Berkley, and among the two to be awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was to be the scheduled speaker for the lecture series in January 2021 but would be lecturing in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai in January 2022, said a note on the TNQ website.

The ongoing seminar series aims at bringing current research on the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19 to clinicians, scientists, and students in India and across the world. TNQ Technologies is a publishing technology and services company based in Chennai and Coimbatore.

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