AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: viral RNA

How Does the New COVID-19 Pill Work? Has it Proven to be Effective?

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many lives across the world. Many people wonder when society can return back to “normal life”. While vaccines are a great and effective way to begin the process of protecting people against SARS-CoV-2, a professional must administer the shot which may be time consuming and immunizations require more resources than other medications such as pills. Recently there has been more positive research on a new pill that helps the body fight SARS-CoV-2. This pill is a game changer to the future of the COVID-19 pandemic as it can be taken at home rather than vaccinations which must be administered by a healthcare professional.

Pill 1

A new study shows that an at-home pill cuts the chance of hospitalization  of newly diagnosed SARS-CoV-2 patients in half. This pill is comprised of an antiviral drug called molnupiravir; molnupiravir is the first oral medication proven to be successful in reducing the viral COVID-19 RNA. The pill was tested in a pool of subjects who were at high risk of developing severe illness once diagnosed with COVID-19. Of the subjects, 377 patients received the placebo and 385 patients received the molnupiravir pill. Within 29 days of beginning the trial, 14.1% of patients who received the placebo were hospitalized, eight of which died. Within this same time frame, 7.3% of patients who received the pill were hospitalized, none of which died. It is important to note that not only did the pill decrease hospitalizations by about half, but this medication also worked for gamma, delta, and mu variants of SARS-CoV-2. 

Once the SARS-CoV-2 virus has entered the body’s cells, it replicates its RNA. The complete virus particles exit the cell and begin infecting other cells which begins the virus’s rapid spread throughout the body. As we learned in AP Biology, helper T cells secrete cytokines which activate the adaptive immune response . However, when SARS-CoV-2 without backgroundtoo many cells are infected there are a lot more helper T cells secreting cytokines into the bloodstream; this is referred to as a cytokine storm. A cytokine storm can result in dead tissue or damage to organs and is an unfortunate COVID-19 complication. However, this pill works to disrupt the SARS-CoV-2 RNA reproduction. Once the molnupiravir drug is absorbed into the virus infected cells, it is converted into defected nucleotides(building blocks of RNA). When the virus attempts to replicate, it is unable to because its genetic code is defective. Because it can not replicate, the amount of virus in the body will remain low. Due to the low SARS-CoV-2 viral count, the virus is less harmful which is made evident in the study summarized above. 

It is evident that this pill is effective and can save many lives. Do you think this could be a turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the beginning of life as we knew it before March 2020?


XRN1: The Virus Hitman

When I think of the words killer and assassin, my mind drifts to shady men in all black equipped with sniper rifles. However, recent research conducted by the University of Idaho and the University of Colorado Boulder has indicated that I should expand that mental list to include XRN1, a gene in saccharomyces cerevisiae which, according to a recent study, kills viruses within the yeast. Upon stumbling onto this subject, I was intrigued because it was a fairly simple procedure that led to a huge discovery. To grasp the significance of such a discovery, one must understand it on a molecular level. XRN1’s duty in yeasts is to create a protein which breaks down old RNA. The image below shows the generic process of the creation of a new protein through gene regulation.

Wikipedia- Regulation of Gene Expression

Wikipedia- Regulation of Gene Expression

Yeasts also contain viral RNA since practically all yeasts are infected by viruses. When scientists removed XRN1 from the yeasts, the viruses within yeasts replicated much faster, and when they expressed high amounts of XRN1, the virus was completely eradicated. This is because the XRN1 gene was inadvertently breaking down the viral RNA, mistakenly taking it for the yeast’s RNA. Scientists continued the research by using XRN1 from other saccharomyces yeast species. The virus continued replicating rapidly but the XRN1 did continue its job of breaking down the yeast’s RNA. This shows that the XRN1 from each yeast species evolves to attack the specific viruses that occur in its host while still maintaining their basic role as the RNA eaters. Scientists are hopeful about this study’s human health implications. Viruses such as Polio and Hepatitis C work by degrading XRN1 and not allowing it to break down RNA, respectively. Dengue Fever also occurs when XRN1 is unable to perform its function of RNA breakdown. These studies on Dengue Fever and Hepatitis C elaborate on the implications of XRN1 not breaking down RNA. Scientists hope that this discovery could lead to the triumph of XRN1 over these viruses. Could this really be the discovery that leads to the first ever Hepatitis C vaccine? Do you think that XRN1’s success against virus in yeasts guarantees eventual success against viruses in humans?


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