A hidden gene in the novel coronavirus could be the reason behind its deadly pandemic potential. Researchers have discovered overlapping genes or “genes within genes” in the virus, which helps the virus replicate faster within host cells.
Scientists, including those from the American Museum of Natural History in the US, have come up with a new study where they said that knowing more about the 15 genes that make up the coronavirus could significantly help in developing drugs to combat COVID-19 in the future.
On the flip side, the study published in the journal eLife, also revealed how the overlapping genes make the SARS-CoV-2 potentially more dangerous than other similar coronaviruses, India Today reported.
The study’s lead author Chase Nelson from the American Museum of Natural History said the overlapping genes may be “one of an arsenal of ways in which coronaviruses have evolved to replicate efficiently, thwart host immunity, or get themselves transmitted.”
The new overlapping gene
The new overlapping gene, ORF3D, in the SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to encode a protein that is longer than expected, said the research team.
They said that the overlapping gene is also present in a previously discovered pangolin coronavirus and suggested that the gene may have undergone changes during the evolution of SARS-Cov-2 and related viruses.
The study further said that ORF3D has been independently identified and elicited a strong antibody response in Covid-19 patients. As per the study, this demonstrates that the protein produced from the new gene is manufactured during human infection.
Further, the overlapping genes are hard to spot and most scientific computer programmes are not designed to find them. The researchers added that this structure is common in viruses.