211 viruses isolated from Russian patients in March and April, have helped Russian scientists to figure out how and where an outbreak COVID-19 in our country, who we eventually got infected and whether to hope that the worst is behind us.

Georgy BAZYKIN, doctor of biological Sciences, Professor at Skoltech, head of the laboratory of molecular evolution, Institute of Information Transmission Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, created the genealogical, family tree of the coronavirus, following all of his family connections.

the Most sensational conclusion of the expert: in the case of Russia, China not with it! His innocence is proven, since traces of it “Wuhan genome” we have not discovered. Most likely, our country was not his patient zero, importations were numerous, almost simultaneously.

the Science that deals with such researches almost a detective, is called genomic epidemiology. These studies can be used for a variety of purposes, for example, to understand the geography of the virus and prevent further outbreaks.

“I am confident that the virus in Russia was imported not from China. Although about half of all variants of the virus at this time was in China, we do not see any delivery from there to us. The vast majority of importations were from European countries”, – said Georgy Bazykin.

– And how do you define it? How is it possible to track the logistics of coronavirus, and why is it needed?

– let’s Start with what we have found out that this virus was brought to Russia many times. According to our estimates, 211 viral genomes resulted in 67 independent importations. Some of them may have been intercepted at the border or soon after. But at least 9 local people led to the emergence of private Russian variants of the virus that circulate only here. In my opinion, it is remarkable that all these movements we can track exclusively genetic methods, do not interviewing people, exploring the mutation of the virus itself. As you know, any biological objects change and store the changes. Mutations are errors in the text of the genome, say, replacing one letter with another. Exploring them, one can draw a kind of family tree of the virus. Those options that are similar to one another, are identical, and correspond to people who are either infected each other or were infected from the same source. For example, we see that the virus that was isolated from one patient in Yakutsk, identical to those viruses that were found in kovenig patients in Switzerland, we can assume that perhaps it was an importation from Switzerland to Yakutsk, and then read and confirm in Newspapers – it appears that top managers of large energy companies flew to Switzerland, and brought home the virus clustered with Swiss. Or��, say, the inhabitant of Northern Caucasus went on a pilgrimage to Mecca – its a virus similar to the “relatives” were from Saudi Arabia. Now, in many cases, we can with high probability determine where they had been brought one or another variant of coronavirus.

– And when COVID-19 came to Russia? I know a huge number of people are foaming at the mouth ready to prove that had something similar in January-February.

– No, this virus was brought to Russia rather late. Most of the people that brought it to us, arrived here in late February-early March. No traces of an earlier origin any of the lines there. Theoretically winter in Russia could only get the Chinese version, but none of the strains that we went, not directly a descendant of the “Wuhan virus”. Perhaps people hurt other pneumonia, not all are caused by coronavirus. No, in Russia the virus has hit Europe. And its domestic transmission we see already on March 11.

– Really happened so fast mutation that in a few months, the Chinese virus so strongly divided from a European?

– it is Important to emphasize that the source in the human population the virus originated is still in China. Having built his family tree, we found out that’s for sure. That is, the ancestor of the coronavirus sitting in China, and even more distant ancestor – the same bat. And the very first was the transfer from animals to humans. Then from China, the virus has been found in Europe, from Europe it was brought here. Large and wide branch in the evolutionary tree correspond to the European. And within these large branches, small branches, already on the Russian.

– But from the beginning of the pandemic, only a few months – when the trunk of the tree had time to grow?!

– So, the virus mutates extremely rapidly, on two or three he gets approximately one mutation.

– This is a coincidence or there is a Providence?

It’s just a mistake in playing the genomic text. Any biological objects mutate. Including people. Only you and I – it’s complicated, there are molecules, whose task is to accurately reprint of hereditary information. The virus has the same molecules, only they have no wrong end. By themselves, mutations are completely meaningless, as if a sloppy typist is typing, skipping one letter, then another. Most of these mutations are neutral, so there’s no way on properties of the virus are not affected, some harmful, that is able virus damage, and some for the virus even useful, they change its properties so that the survival rate increases. In fact, natural selection was discovered by Charles Darwin. In the application specifically to this virus, mutations were numerous, but badly on its properties they are not yet affected, all well-known retain approximately the same transmissibility and the same likelihood of severe disease. There were some mutations, which spoke about that, they seem to enhance infectivity, but this has not been proven.

– what mutates faster – influenza virus or coronavirus?

– the flu Virus mutates much faster, about four times faster mutating HIV. This difference stems from the fact that COVID-19 in contrast to the first two is still a bit “follows” in order to reprint your genomic “text” correctly. It has to do, let’s call them the special “scissors” and some errors in the process are corrected. And the human immunodeficiency virus is not monitoring the accuracy of information transmission at all. Although the difference between all of these viruses are actually quite small. They accumulate the variability very quickly, compared to the same person millions of times faster. But for the purposes of genomic epidemiology I would prefer that the coronavirus has mutated even faster.


– It would give my methods a little more resolution. Then I could distinguish from each other is not one of the three infections and each, to trace her steps. In Russia there are so many different virus variants. But it’s exactly the same viruses that make people sick in Italy, Germany, Sweden, USA.

But why where it was more severe course and high mortality rate, as in Italy or the United States, and somewhere less than – if the properties of the virus are the same everywhere?

– Partly, perhaps, it could be related to a lower readiness of the health system. The fact that in Italy documented a very high percentage of mortality among cases mostly occurred not due to the fact that Italians are infected, most die, just in the first month I only tested the heavy. In some regions, as already determined, as a result, the disease has moved about 70% of the population and the idea was supposed to produce population immunity.

But if the virus mutates so quickly, how effective can a vaccine from it?

– is still unknown. But for example a long walk is not necessary, it is sufficient to recall the flu vaccine, which is a refresh to re-teach our immune system to “hunt”. It is possible that there may be the same problem.

– Well, wait, the first batch of several dozen volunteer testers a few days to go home, they are vaccinated and they have, as they say, like all well-formed immune response, antibodies appeared.

– Each vaccine must go through several stages of clinical trials, the last stage, the highest and proved its effectiveness. This stage involves the participation of hundreds and even thousands of volunteers, some of them not knowing is getting drug or placebo, after some time traced statistically, how many people were sick, what group showed more severe symptoms who are not infected at all, until such a study is not completed, the vaccine may be as promising, but we won’t know it works or not. The last stage of clinical trials extremely difficult to reduce the time. Of course, if someone is willing to risk tens of millions of dollars to build a plant for the production of vaccines before they are finalized, only then you may find that the money thrown to the wind.

– One of the conclusions of your research, in Russia the virus has delivered repeatedly, while the export of the virus from Russia to somewhere else was not. This is due to the fact that we have well established quarantine measures?

– Yes, once in Russia, our versions of the game would have stayed in Russia. Timely closures probably played a role. In any case we do not see any traces of the Russian exports of viruses out, unlike, for example, from the UK, which was and remains the largest exporter (not to mention Italy, Spain, etc., where the European epidemic began). But it should be noted that the European history of the pandemic are investigated in more detail, maybe something we do not notice and in fact the exports were. For example, until now nothing is known about the possible importation from us in, say, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan.

– a Month ago I did an interview with the American doctor-resuscitator Eugene Pinelis, which became famous throughout Russia as the phrase that the “virus has disappeared from new York” exactly on the day when Moscow took the first limitation of self-isolation. The virus is really weakened? It has something to do with his mutation?

– In fact, not only in new York, but in many places we observed the same pattern of decreasing growth rate. But I don’t think at the moment, reducing the number of infections has something to do with changes in the properties of the virus itself. There can be steeped several factors. First, still summer, and even if the distribution does not depend on the weather, the time that children EN masse not to go to school plays a role. According to the latest data, since ten years students pass the infection as well and quickly as adults. Honestly, I have great fear waiting for the beginning of a new school year if educational institutions will come from the online…

In the context of high variability of the virus, what to expect through the next couple of months? Lull or a new flash? Mutation of the Spanish flu in the autumn of 1918 led to the second wave, much more deadly�� than the first.

– it’s hard to build prediction models in the absence of primary data on the number of cases of infection. I can say one thing, until that time, mankind will not herd immunity, and will not developed a vaccine with proven efficacy, the risk of recurrent waves remains.

– Studying the properties of this virus, as you believe, he is still of natural origin?

I do not see any signs of artificial origin in it. It is akin to the virus that had previously separated from wild animals. It seems to me mankind do not need to try to bring the viruses represent a biological threat to our species. Nature itself copes with this. All the same people, with almost eight billion, for viruses this is a huge pasture on which to graze well.