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COVID-19 Genetics | Science News 2.1

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Published on Mar 17, 2020

Livestream link: https://youtu.be/Dk961zalPlQ

I want to answer your questions about the genetics of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. I'm a geneticist, and feel like this is the part of the science that I can try and help communicate. Leave your questions in the comments below, and we'll talk about them together this Friday at noon PST.

Well. I wanted this week’s 2-part science news video to be about a new CRISPR study, but instead, I just think it makes the most sense to talk about the genetics of COVID-19.

Let’s start with some basics. In their simplest form, viruses have two main parts: their genetic material, which could be DNA or RNA, and some kind of protein package that holds the genetic material. COVID-19 is an RNA virus. This means that the genetic material inside of it is stored as RNA, not DNA. And for COVID-19, that RNA is found within a nucleocapsid protein structure, which is inside of a lipid membrane envelope. That envelope is covered in spike proteins, which are what give the coronaviruses their name--they look a bit like a crown or corona.

To replicate, it must infect a host cell and hijack that cell’s replication and protein production machinery. Those spike proteins on the outside of the virus are what attach to receptors in the cells of your lungs, ACE2 receptors. The virus then fuses its membrane with the cell’s membrane and releases its RNA into the cell. This is where it takes advantage of that cell’s machinery to make more RNA and more of its capsid and envelope proteins.

But really, the virus’s RNA genome doesn’t need to contain too much information. It’s only about 30,000 bases long, and encodes for the proteins that it needs to make more virus. Once the new RNA and proteins are replicated they are assembled into new viruses, which then leave the cell to go infect more cells. There’s an awesome infographic from the NYTimes that goes over this that I’ve linked here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2...

Other Resources:
What is QPCR: https://dnadots.minipcr.com/dnadots/r...
Using genetics to track how it spreads:
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/...
Using genetics to figure out where it came from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s4159...

A special thank you to my Patreon patrons. I'm pretty sure videos about this can't be monetized right now, so you are truly my heroes helping me to do what I do. This of course includes my helicases:
Marcel Ward
Russ Determan
Ben Krasnow
Palle Helenius
Tim Rhodes
Peter Cook
Brad
Diane & George Dainis
Don Burlone
Tim McNally
William Pilkington

Twitter: @AlexDainis
Instagram: Alex.Dainis
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/AlexDainis

Video produced by Helicase Media LLC (my new science production company!) www.helicasemedia.com

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