Imagine what a genetic bomb could consist of. Think for a while and tell me what has occurred to you. Maybe a shower of alien microorganisms from beyond Orion, or maybe an evil experiment from Doctor No, right? They are the two stubborn classic themes that have weighed down science fiction since Mary Shelley's two-hundredth anniversary of Frankenstein. The attack of the others and the scientific genius whose ambition is greater than his talent. The two clichés of the genre to destroy the world. A roll.
The British variant of the coronavirus is already predominant in Spain
But reality is beyond fiction – another cliché – and genetic bombs exist in nature, and have been perfected by scientific talent. There are genes that mean "spread me." The phenomenon is called a meiotic drive in the jargon, which requires a little refresher on high school biology. People carry two copies of each chromosome, one from mom and one from dad. The two intermingle (recombine) in your eggs or sperm, so what you pass on to your child is a chromosome that you never had, because it is a combination of the genes of your parents, the child's grandparents.
Could SARS-CoV-2 become a gene bomb?
So far so good. But there are genes spread to me that, in a microscopic version of natural selection, ensure numerical dominance in the next generation. Because this occurs during meiosis, the gene shuffling process that occurs in the gonads, is called the meiotic drive . Geneticists have perfected this natural mechanism to the point where they are poised to extinguish the mosquito species that transmits the most malaria. We often call it a genetic chain reaction, which not only gives an idea of its effectiveness, but also of its risks. Yes folks, gene bombs do exist, and they are not as you imagined them
Could SARS-CoV-2 become a gene bomb? To begin with, what exactly does that mean? It means that the coronavirus evolves with the geometry of a tree, where the original trunk forks into large branches, small branches, twigs and axillary shoots in a fractal nightmare of mutation and victory in the incessant war of the virus genome against our immune system . To our joy and fortune, this does not appear to be the case.
Evolutionary microbiologist Vaughn Cooper of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provides a thorough analysis of the matter in 'Scientific American' . The source is a good one, because Cooper's lab has described seven independent SARS-CoV-2 lineages in the United States that have each 'discovered' on their own the same mutation in the same virus protein. It is, according to the Pittsburgh scientist, a case of convergent evolution as few have been documented so far. The virus mutates all it wants, but successful variants are always based on the same changes. The others don't seem to work. This is very good news, because it means that there will be no genetic bomb, but only a few tricks that we can manage.
THE SCIENCE OF THE WEEK is a space in which Javier Sampedro analyzes current science. Subscribe to the Materia newsletter and you will receive it every Saturday in your email, along with a selection of our best news of the week.
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