London / New Delhi
The progenitor of the novel coronavirus underwent “very little change” to adapt to humans from bats, according to a new study which suggests the ability of the virus to spread from one person to another likely evolved in the flying mammal prior to it jumping to its new human host.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Biology, assessed hundreds of thousands of sequenced genomes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and found for the first 11 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been very little 'important genetic change' observed in the coronavirus.
However, it noted some changes such as the D614G mutation, and similar tweaks in the virus spike protein has affected its biology.
“This does not mean no changes have occurred, mutations of no evolutionary significance accumulate and 'surf' along the millions of transmission events, like they do in all viruses,” explained study first author Oscar MacLean from the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research in Scotland.
But the scientists said it was "surprising" how transmissible SARS-CoV-2 has been from the outset.
“Usually viruses that jump to a new host species take some time to acquire adaptations to be as capable as SARS-CoV-2 at spreading, and most never make it past that stage, resulting in dead-end spillovers or localised outbreaks," said Sergei Pond, a co-author of the study from Temple University in the US.