Nuclear-derived tools supplied to countries worldwide by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations play a critical role in researching, detecting, diagnosing, and characterizing zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19.
They are also important to understand and track changes in a virus. In recent discoveries in the Netherlands and Denmark, Covid-19 infections have been, for the first time, recorded to transmit from humans to mink and back to humans, showing that the virus quickly adapts to new hosts.
According to a report by IAEA, understanding such mutations is vital in the development of an effective vaccine against the virus causing Covid-19 and other similar viruses.
The IAEA and FAO have established a platform that promotes and facilitates the access to DNA sequencing technology to laboratories worldwide to enable in-depth understanding of locally circulating or introduced pathogens.
To date, the IAEA says it has over 3000 submissions by counterpart laboratories and 24 publications using the DNA sequencing service of various viruses, including coronaviruses, in peer reviewed journals.
Since June 2020, 214 human cases of Covid-19 have been identified in Denmark with virus variants associated with farmed mink, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Similar infections were reported from mink farms in Spain, Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands.
The virus identified in Denmark had a combination of genetic mutations that had not previously been observed. It is not clear at this point whether this new strain is more dangerous for humans, but the virus has shown decreased sensitivity to antibodies able to neutralize virus infectivity.
Mink are the first animal species identified that can be infected by people and vice versa – but they may not be the only ones. The IAEA says it has already assisted over 120 countries by transferring knowledge and equipment to detect the virus that causes Covid-19.
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