The current COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), underscores the importance of understanding the evolution of ribonucleic acid (RNA) genomes.
Scientists Zachary W. Kockler and Dmitry A. Gordenin, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, US National Institutes of Health, USA, reviewed the current knowledge of key mechanisms and causes of RNA genome instability in a recent paper posted to the Preprints* server.
“Mechanisms underlying instability of RNA virus genomes are important for better prediction of their evolution, new pathogen emergence, and the development of antiviral drugs.”
Genetic variation (i.e., mutation and other types of genome instability) and natural selection are the two significant factors that interplay in creating a new species. It is known that the remarkably high instability levels of RNA genomes accelerate speciation – enabling us to witness evolution. However, this also presents a threat to the species hosting RNA viral genomes, including the ongoing pandemic of SARS-CoV-2.
The reviewers draw attention to smart survival interplay of the viral RNA genome: 1) striving a balance between a stable genome, which is necessary for transmitting viable genetic material to progeny and to prevent the extinction of species, and 2) instances of genome instability, which are instrumental for accumulating beneficial variants to…