Coronavirus epidemics occurred in East Asia 20,000 years ago

Various strains of coronaviruses already plagued mankind, for example, more than 20,000 years ago in the East Asian region. Traces of them have been found in the DNA of people in what is now China, Japan and Vietnam. A new paper published in Current Biology describes evidence of human genetic adaptation to coronaviruses in forty-two genes in modern communities.

In the last century alone, influenza has killed millions of people. The coronavirus family also includes MERS and SARS, which have caused high morbidity this century. The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has caused more than 3.8 million deaths and has caused multi-billion dollar losses across the globe.

The historical record of epidemics caused by viruses has been found for centuries. The migrations of our ancestors, through which humans settled all over the world, also brought them new diseases. But viruses caused adaptations at the genetic level that allowed mankind to survive. These adaptations contained both physiological and immune mutations that increased resistance to infection or facilitated the effects of disease on the body.

In recent years, scientists have developed the latest ways to search for traces of prehistoric adaptations, which are contained in the genomes of all living human beings. Using these methods, experts have studied the genomes of more than 2.5 thousand people from 26 populations on the planet. And found traces of changes in forty-two genes. Only five populations from the East Asian region, which most likely is the home of all coronaviruses, had these traits. That is, the inhabitants of East Asia suffered similar epidemics more than 20 millennia ago.

Subsequent study of the problem led to the discovery that forty-two genes are mainly expressed in the lungs, which are more affected by COVID-19 than other organs. Analyses also proved that these genes are directly related to SARS-CoV-2, which caused the current situation. By discovering genes affected by ancient virus outbreaks, scientists have turned their attention to the promise of evolutionary genetic analysis as a new tool to combat future outbreaks.