FROM A POSSIBLE isolated outbreak in a wet market in Wuhan, China, Covid-19 has become a global pandemic affecting around five million people and killing more than three lakh worldwide. The causative organism is a virus that is so small that more than four lakh of its kind can fit on the tip of a needle. This new strain of coronavirus, named as novel coronavirus 2019, or 2019-nCoV, has an RNA (ribonucleic acid) genome of around 30,000 nucleotide bases and belongs to the betacoronavirus genus.
The first genome sequence of 2019-nCoV was isolated from a man employed at the Wuhan market. A consortium of researchers in China made the sequence available in the public domain; today, it serves as the reference point for understanding the virus and its evolution.
Like all organisms, coronavirus evolves through the accumulation of genetic mutations. Unlike the influenza viruses that cause the common flu, the 2019-nCoV mutates at a much slower pace. It is estimated that the virus accumulates one mutation approximately every 15 days. As the virus replicates and transmits, mutations get accumulated in its genome, thus forming different evolutionary groups or ‘clades’.
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