Well-Being Prevention & Cures

The coronavirus’s genetic code is 80 percent similar to SARS

coronavirus wuhan virus SARS similar development cure vaccine outbreak scientists report research
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • The deadly coronavirus has been compared to SARS, and scientists identified striking similarities between the two.
  • Both originated from bats, and the Wuhan coronavirus shares approximately 80 percent of its genome with the SARS virus.
  • This indicates that what curbed the SARS outbreak could work for the coronavirus.

Researchers have reportedly found that the coronavirus is more similar to the last zoonotic virus SARS. Both originated in bats and share 80 percent of their genetic coding. 

This comes as the coronavirus continues to infect people and claim lives; the total number of patients number more than 20,000, and the death count is 425. 

Business Insider reports on a pair of studies published in the scientific journal Nature on Monday. The studies discuss the genome structure of the Wuhan coronavirus in relation to SARS.

Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, wrote in a prepared statement that “In essence, it’s a version of SARS that spreads more easily but causes less damage.” Jones is not affiliated with either report. 

While this is not the development of a cure, it could be an important clue in identifying one. 

The SARS outbreak occurred in 2002 and 2003, and just like the coronavirus, jumped from animals, specifically bats, to humans. With a bevy of similarities between the two novel viruses, the scientists collected samples of complete genomes of the coronavirus from patients at the beginning of the outbreak. 

In one study, Business Insider reports that a team of scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology observed samples of the virus from seven patients who appeared to have “severe pneumonia.” Six of these patients worked at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan where experts believe the outbreak started. 

After analyses, approximately 70 percent of the samples were “nearly identical” to each other. Their genetic sequence was even more similar to SARS, boasting a 79.5 percent similarity. 

A second study conducted by researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention examined a single person: a 41-year-old man who worked at the same seafood market. 

The patient, who exhibited similar respiratory symptoms and a fever, was determined to be infected with a virus that was 89 percent similar to a group of “SARS-like coronaviruses” known as betacoronaviruses, previously identified in bats. 

These similarities led researchers to find that the Wuhan coronavirus and SARS bind to human cells the same way, latching on to the same cellular receptor, ACE2, that exists in human lungs. 

While similarities seen in fatal viruses may not be good news, it implies that treatments that worked for SARS patients may work for Wuhan coronavirus patients.

A vaccine is reportedly in development but has not yet been approved or released. In the meantime, the study authors suggest that antibodies produced by patients already infected with the coronavirus could be used “to neutralize the virus,” per Business Insider.