Richard C. Lewontin (1929-2021), the geneticist who did not believe in genetic determinism | Genetics

Since the mid-1800s, when Charles Darwin articulated the theory of evolution and Moravian monk Gregor Mendel identified the basic principles of heredity by crossing peas in his garden, scientists, philosophers, social scientists and theologians debated the implications of genetics at origins, meaning and future of human life.

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The devastating coronavirus epidemic has previously raged in China

An ancient virus 20 thousand years ago left the same traces in the genetic material of the inhabitants of East Asia as Sars-CoV-2

Photo: GLOBAL LOOK PRESS

Over the past 20 years, three dangerous coronavirus epidemics have broken out in the world. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS or SARS in English) broke out in China in 2002. The disease was very difficult, every tenth case ended in death, but the spread of the virus was strangled in the bud. About 800 people became victims of SARS. Another member of the coronavirus family, MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, made itself felt in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It also turned out to be extremely aggressive, but in its ability to transmit to other people it was inferior to Sars-CoV-2: it infected about 2,500 people worldwide, 850 of them died. Sars-CoV-2 has already killed about 4 million people.

However, before that, there was another large-scale coronavirus epidemic in the history of mankind, traces of which were preserved in the genetic material of the population of East Asia.

An international team of scientists from universities in the United States and Australia conducted a genetic investigation using data from the 1000 Genomes Project. This is the most detailed catalog of human genetic variations to date, as part of the project, the genomes of 2,500 people have been fully read. In this particular study, genome sequences from 26 different populations were analyzed.

– The modern human genome contains information about evolution over tens of thousands of years. This can be compared to tree rings, the study of which gives us an idea of ​​the conditions in which it grew, – explained one study author Kirill Alexandrov, professor at the Center for Tropical Cultures and Biomaterials at the Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia).

How ancient covid was calculated

Viruses have a huge impact on human evolution. And the targets of natural selection have often been proteins that physically interact with viruses – for example, are involved in immune defenses or are used by viruses to hijack host cells.

But how to calculate when the ancient epidemic happened by the “annual rings” in the genome? Over time, mutations are constantly accumulating in all genes, most of which are harmless, explains Professor Aleksandrov. The mutation rate can be figuratively represented as a constantly ticking genetic clock. But when there is pressure from natural selection – for example, a deadly epidemic has broken out – the clocks of some genes start ticking much faster as they accumulate beneficial mutations.

Scientists compared a large number of sequenced genomes and found that 20,000 years ago, the clocks of many of the genes that SARS-CoV-2 uses to manipulate human cells started ticking three times faster. Since this happened almost simultaneously – roughly 900 generations ago – this indicates a viral pandemic caused by a similar virus.

SARS-CoV-2 left his “fingers”

Next, scientists analyzed whether the proteins that our ancestors acquired after the pandemic 20 thousand years ago interact with SARS-CoV-2 proteins. And got a positive result. The circle has closed: in the genome, the “fingerprints” of COVID-19, which operated on the planet tens of thousands of years ago, were indeed fingerprinted.

According to scientists, the coronavirus epidemic in East Asia was large-scale, spanning several generations. During the epidemic, natural selection favored gene variants that protected against severe disease. These changes have become entrenched in the genome of people from those regions of East Asia that are now China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan.

Ancient killer viruses will be registered

The research carried out by Professor Aleksandrov and his colleagues has not only historical but also serious practical significance. The team plans to carry out genomic analysis of other large populations of people and use the fingers in our genetic code to calculate the viruses that caused deadly epidemics in the distant past. If SARS-CoV-2 returned from oblivion, then other killer viruses are likely to resurrect.

“The method we have developed allows us to compile a list of potentially dangerous viruses and then develop diagnostics, vaccines and drugs in case they return,” the study authors said.

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The COVID-19 genome would show that it came out of a laboratory

The new coronavirus contains a segment called CGG-CGG, which is considered rare even in experiments in which researchers manipulate the virus. But even more telling is that this combination never found naturally in no other type of coronavirus, including SARS and MERS, which are its cousins.

This is assured by an essay that is damning because it affirms that the COVID-19 genome sequencing strongly suggests that the virus was generated within a chinese laboratory. The work was done by Drs. Stephen Quay, CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Atossa Therapeutics Inc, and Richard Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California Berkeley, in The Wall Street Journal.

What are they based on?

  • There are 36 DNA segments, made up of three-letter “words,” that viruses use to make an amino acid known as L-arginine.
  • L-arginine helps make proteins, but is also frequently used in so-called “gain-of-function” research, which alters viruses to make them more transmissible and more deadly.

“A virus simply cannot pick up a sequence from another virus if that sequence is not present in any other virus,” Quay and Muller wrote. “The CGG-CGG combination has never been found naturally. That means that the common method for viruses to capture new abilities, called recombinationYou cannot apply here ”, they emphasize.

The trial comes after an explosive study last week claimed Chinese scientists created COVID-19 in the Wuhan lab, then tried to cover their tracks with versions of reverse engineered virus to make it look like it evolved naturally from bats.

The pair of researchers conclude: “Yes, it could have happened by chance, through mutations. But do you believe that? At the very least, this fact (that the coronavirus, with all its random possibilities, took on the rare and unnatural combination used by human researchers) implies that the leading theory for the origin of the coronavirus must be laboratory escape. “

The theory of laboratory filtration was initially discarded by the media and academic communities. President Joe Biden last week ordered intelligence agencies to launch an investigation into whether COVID was man-made.

Circumstantial evidence long raised questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers were known to be conducting experiments with bat coronavirus strains similar to the one responsible for COVID-19.

China insisted early that the virus did not leak from the lab, claiming that the crossing into humans must have occurred in a “wet market” in Wuhan that sold live animals. They argue that this theory is “extremely impossible” and accuse the United States of “political manipulation.”

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