The Big Question: Lisa Gralinski on the novel coronavirus outbreak

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Lisa Gralinski is a research associate in the laboratory of Dr. Ralph Baric at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health. Dr. Gralinski’s research focuses on the role of host genetic variation in contributing to the severity of respiratory virus infection, including SARS-CoV and Influenza virus.

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What is the biggest question regarding the new coronavirus?

What is the source of the new virus? What is its natural reservoir and how did it transmit to people?

Why is it significant?

These questions are important because the answers help us determine how likely the virus is to repeatedly spill over to the human population. The sequence data obtained to date suggest that there was a single emergence event followed by sustained human to human transmission. By knowing the source we can also monitor it and try to prevent unnecessary human contact, thus hopefully avoiding additional outbreaks in the future.

Where is the answer likely to come from?

This answer is likely to come from surveillance efforts of animal and environmental samples throughout China. Right now most effort is necessarily focused on identifying and treating infected individuals and on preventing further spread of the virus. Environmental swabs from the seafood market associated with the early outbreak came back positive but no specific animal tests showed signs of this new virus. Because the new virus has 96% genetic identity to bat coronaviruses surveilled in Yunnan Province, China, bats seem like a logical starting point in this work

IMAGE SOURCE: Spencer Gee/UNC-Chapel Hill

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