MUTATIONS & COVID-19
Mutations in the
natural world are normal and most happen without any real consequence.
They are random and they are accidents. Unfortunately, the word itself
has a bad connotation. The truth is that mutations have always been very
important in creating the amazing diversity of the evolution of life.
In essence, we
and every other living organism on the planet are mutants! When using
the term mutant in reference to COVID-19 (which is also a mutant), it is
important to understand how mutations arise and what they really mean
in relation to a virus such as the novel coronavirus, in order to
assuage our anxiety when we are told the COVID-19 coronavirus is
MUTATIONS ARE MISTAKES
caused by mistakes the polymerase molecule (the enzyme found in every
living thing that makes long chains of repeated units) sometimes makes
when copying long strings of letters, such as those in our DNA. Just as a typist
relies on spellcheck and the backspace key or a proofreader, most of
these mistakes are corrected. But still, some go uncorrected and these
mistakes are called mutations.
have negative effects or they may have some beneficial effects to the
survival of the organism, and some may have no effect at all on the
living thing. Of course, mutations can also arise from other sources in
our environment such as high-energy light waves (ultraviolet light,
X-rays, gamma rays, etc.), many metals, certain chemicals, and certain
viruses and bacteria, etc.
MUTATIONS IN DNA
Our DNA Code has redundancies built into it to keep mistakes (mutations) to a minimum.
The following is a simplified explanation of a DNA code:
letters are equivalent to one specific protein building block in the
code. For example, GGC tells the cell to reach for a glycine to add to
the growing protein chain. But GGA also means glycine. Thus, it is
apparent that the third letter is inconsequential because the DNA code
if the DNA mutates from GGC to GGA, the protein will look the same. But
if the mutation turns GGC into ABC, the cell will add a different
building block altogether, which may affect how the protein performs.
The above example is of
a mutation affecting one letter, but there are all kinds of mutations,
like insertions, deletions, and massive changes that can wreak a lot
DNA vs. RNA
In humans and other mammals, our DNA contains genetic instructions that are copied into our RNA (Ribonucleic
acid). The DNA stays in the cell's nucleus and the RNA then carries
the copies of genetic information to the rest of the cell through a
process that forms the proteins that carry out our bodily functions.
Viruses such as the coronavirus also have a genetic blueprint.
But, unlike in humans and other mammals, the genetic material for these
coronaviruses is encoded in RNA only.
The coronavirus also has a polymerase to make copies of its RNA
so that each new viral particle can carry this blueprint.
Unfortunately, this polymerase makes mistakes and mutations arise that
are not corrected, just like with the polymerase that codes our DNA.
the coronavirus RNA gets into our cells, it causes the protein
synthesis machinery of our cells to mistake it for the RNA produced by
our own DNA.
With most viruses, a sample will show that
the RNA of all the viral particles is slightly different. These are
mutations that are normal. This is because when mutations arise, they
may not have any appreciable impact on the virus. But many diseases can
occur when these mutations go awry!
MUTATIONS ARE ACCIDENTS
is most important to remember that mutations are just accidents. The
accidents can be happy ones and some of these random mutations may end
up helping a virus. But a virus does not have a brain, is not clever,
and most mutations are neither good nor bad because they do not affect
the code or recipe that carries the instructions on how to make a
VIRUS MUTATIONS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE
new coronavirus is an example of some mutations that do make a
difference. The new virus needed to mutate in order to become good at
certainly could be possible that in the future a mutation could arise
in a gene that codes for the external part of the coronavirus, the part
that gets recognized by our immune system as foreign. It would thus
create a new strain of the virus to which we would not yet be immune.
This happens a lot with RNA viruses. Luckily, it has not happened yet
with the COVID-19 coronavirus and so far it appears to be genetically
WHAT DO MUTATIONS MEAN FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN EFFECTIVE VACCINE?
Please continue reading here
for the answer as well as other topics such as traditional vaccines vs
RNA vaccines, the reason why the measles vaccine from the 1950s still
works but the flu vaccine has to be developed anew each year, etc.