Three Things You May Not Know About SARS-CoV-2, the Virus that Causes COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

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As COVID-19 (commonly known as coronavirus) spreads all over the world, we have shared content on how some of our grantees have responded to the outbreak, how MacArthur Fellows have balanced competing demands as their lives have shifted, and of course how to help stop the spread of the virus.

But how much do you know about the virus itself, its origins, and what might be next?

Elodie Ghedin, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow and an expert in parasites and viruses, was kind enough to share three key pieces of information about COVID-19 that many of us may not know. In her work she uses genomic sequencing techniques to generate critical insights about human pathogens, and she has shown that molecular genetics is a powerful tool that scientists can use to improve public health all over the world.

Here she shares three things that you might not know about SARS-CoV-2. Note that SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that is currently spreading worldwide, and that COVID-19 is the disease that it causes:

The Bat May Still Be in the Belfry

The origin of SARS-CoV-2 is undoubtedly zoonotic, meaning that it can spread between animals and people. Horseshoe bats are likely the source, because very similar viruses have been found in that bat species.

However, we have not yet found that exact same virus in a potential intermediate host, or even in the bat population.

Surveillance (ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health-related data) in bats around Wuhan, China, and in wild animals sold in markets will be necessary to better understand the exact origin of the outbreak.

‘Tis the Season

SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh coronavirus species that can infect humans. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960's, and every year we see four species circulating in the human population that can lead to mild, cold-like symptoms.

Until the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the most severe human coronaviruses were SARS-CoV (which emerged in 2002–2003 and has now disappeared from the human population) and MERS-CoV (which emerged in 2012 in a spillover infection from infected camels). While both led to severe disease, neither was as transmissible or prevalent as SARS-CoV-2.

We can expect SARS-CoV-2 to be around for years to come. The best we can hope for is that it will become one of five mild seasonal human coronaviruses.

Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared

This may not be the last emerging coronavirus that we will have to contend with, and it may not even be the worst.

I’ll give you a minute to process this.

Research into vaccine development, therapeutics and basic science are the best way we can prepare for future outbreaks, so we are not scrambling when the time comes.

Learn more about how the MacArthur Foundation is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and supporting nonprofits during the pandemic. We have also shared guidance that we have provided with regard to COVID-19 to protect the well-being of our staff, visitors to the Foundation, and people participating in MacArthur convenings. You can also review updates on the CDC website for more general information regarding the situation.

We support creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. ⚖🌿☮🌎

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