Eenadu newspaper has published an informative interview with Prof C Durga Rao, Professor of Biological Sciences & Associate Dean, School of Engineering and Sciences, and School of Liberal Arts and Social Science (SLASS), in their front page on the most relevant topic of our times, ‘Corona Virus and its Mutations’. As the world stays petrified awaiting further mutations of Covid-19 virus, Dr Rao clearly answered the pertinent questions regarding the waves of pandemic in this exclusive interview.
Detailing from the process of cell division to the natural process of origin of mutations, he talked about the harmless viruses and the pathogenic viruses that influence the immune system of the human body. Moving on to the antiviral medication, he cautioned against Remdesivir, a drug widely used for Covid-19 treatment. Majority of antiviral drugs are similar to the nucleotides in viral RNA, and are called analogues. As the virus keeps an mutating naturally because of the error-prone viral RNA polymerase that synthesizes progeny viral RNA copies, when a drug is frequently given to a patient, mutants that are resistant to the drug will be selected to replicate in the presence of the drug. Thus, when the same drug is given to treat the new mutant that escapes, the drug will not work against the new variants.
The single mutations L452R and E484Q, first detected in variants in the US and South Africa, respectively, occurred simultaneously in the double mutant, first detected in India. There is nothing surprising in finding double mutants as a variety of mutants are produced in a single patient, but only a few, which are capable of faster replication and spread will be able to survive in the population. As we have a large population density, the double mutant, which binds to the ACE2 receptor on the cell surface and enters into the cell more efficiently, spread like wildfire from December last year to March this year. To face the potential threat of the third wave of Covid-19 virus that is looming around us, the people have to take necessary precautions and comply with the lockdowns and restrictions. Though a third wave is inevitable, it is possible for India to avoid the severe impact of the third wave through wearing a mask, and immunization, he said. Approval of more vaccines and enhancing the delivery of vaccines across the country can shield the population from severe coronavirus disease and death.
Dr Rao, whose major research areas include Molecular Virology, Recombinant DNA technology, Vaccines and Diagnostics had been a professor and INSA Senior Scientist at Indian Institute of Science (IISc). He is currently working on a project worth 1.10 crore.