Can the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen continue to mutate, spawning dangerous variants of concern one after another, or does this virus have any constraints or limitations to its mutations? According to one research team working at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, in fact, has limitations, thus benefiting biopharma ventures developing therapies and vaccines in response.

But why did this team of scientists come to this conclusion? What did they study to make this claim? David Ussery, Ph.D., and a multinational team tapped into large databases storing sequences SARS-CoV-2 genomes demonstrated the limited genetic range for new mutations, recently published in FEMS Microbiology Reviews, reports David Robinson writing for UAMS News.

A brief TrialSite breakdown for rapid consumption.

What databases did the team tap into to study coronavirus genomes?

GenBank and Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID)Subscribe to the Trialsitenews “COVID-19” ChannelNo spam – we promise

What did the team use to analyze all that data?

The UAMS high-performance supercomputer called GRACE.

Where did the funding come from?

  • The infrastructure needed to support such an endeavor was supported by an Arkansas-state-wide $24 million grant funded by the Arkansas NSF EPSCoR Program
  • Also, the study was supported in part by the  National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, grant 1P20GM121293.
  • UAMS Translational Research Institute, which is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Clinical and Translational Science Award UL1 TR003107
  • NSF Award (No. OIA-1946391), and with funding from the Arkansas Research Alliance.

What did they find?

Overall, the pathogen is “pretty stable, and it is not changing that much,” reports Ussery who also declared, “It’s somewhat restricted. That’s good news for designing drugs that can fight it effectively.”

Ussery explained that rather than “…producing millions of different epitopes that need to be theoretically anticipated during vaccine development, we may now be able to predict a very limited subset of probable epitopes.”

How does this study break new ground?

The study lead indicated that this study now helps “…people see the big picture with a systematic look at the virus’ genomics” based on the millions of genomes studied, affording their ability “…to tease out the variance within different lineages that are causing outbreaks like delta and omicron.”

What other value did this team bring?

UAMS’ Robinson reports that the research team was also able to identify numerous incomplete or erroneous sequences housed in the databases.

About UAMS

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions, and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprises. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose, and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement, and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 3,047 students, 873 medical residents and fellows, and six dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center, and Baptist Health

Lead Research/Investigator

David Ussery, Ph.D., professor and director of the Arkansas Center for Genomic Epidemiology & Medicine, UAMS; Ussery, who holds the Helen Adams & Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Endowed Chair in Biomedical Informatics, said the analysis was inspired by “Ebolavirus Comparative Genomics,” published in 2015 by an international team that included all four authors of the COVID-19 paper. The Ebola publication earned a FEMS Microbiology Reviews Editor’s Choice Award.

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