A COVID-19 researchers team from Academia Sinica Research institute in Taipei, Taiwan have discovered a “hidden gene” in the SARS-CoV-2. This hidden gene in novel coronavirus, virus causing COVID-19, may have contributed to its unique biology and potential of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discovery of a new gene for a virus that already has fifteen genes in total could have a significant impact on how we will fight against the virus.

Points To Note

  • The new hidden gene study has been published in the eLife magazine . The lead author of the study is Chase Nelson who is a postdoctoral researcher at Academia Sinica and a visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History (New York).
  • The Scientist have found a new overlapping gene, ORF3d, in novel coronavirus. This new hidden gene has a potential to encode a protein which lasts longer than expected by chance alone.
  • The researchers team also found that this gene is also present in previously discovered pangolin coronavirus.
  • The lead author said that the function or any clinical significance of new gene is not known yet but it is predicted that it is unlikely to be detected by a T-cell response.
  • At the first look, the gene appeared like a written language in which they made a string of letters for conveying information.
  • While the unit of language/information being transferred is discrete, genes are multifunctional and overlapping.
  • Overlapping genes are hard to find, and it is difficult to spot them using scientific computer programs also. This is somewhat because RNA viruses have a high mutation rate, so they tend to keep their gene count low to prevent a large number of mutations. As a result, viruses have evolved a system of data compression in which one letter in its genome contributes to 2 or even 3 different genes.
  • Chase Nelson highlighted that “Missing overlapping genes puts us in a great danger of overlooking major aspects of viral biology”.

Before CORONAVIRUS, Chase Nelson has developed a computer program for screening genomes for patterns of genetic change that are unique to overlapping genes. new hidden gene in COVID-19 Virus