Despite intensive efforts worldwide to contain the spread and find a cure for COVID-19, relatively little is known about the basic biology of the virus. This is now changing. Professor Kim V. Narry, Director of RNA research at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS), Professor Chang Hyeshik from the Department of Biological Sciences and their research teams have deciphered COVID-19’s highly complex transcriptome and epitranscriptome using two complementary sequencing techniques, thereby paving the yet untraveled road to understanding the life cycle and pathogenicity of the coronavirus.
Professor Kim, one of South Korea’s most prominent scientists and recipient of countless awards, has devoted her entire career to better understanding RNA biology. Professor Chang, an up-and-coming scientist who joined SNU last year as assistant professor at the Department of Biological Sciences, is committed to developing high-throughput experimental methods and next-generation analytic tools for a deeper understanding of post-transcriptional gene regulation. Their collaboration could not have been timelier; through their seminal work, the billions of people worldwide who have had their livelihoods affected by COVID-19 will be able to have hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Their study makes use of a combination of nanopore-based direct RNA sequencing (DRS), which enables long-read sequencing but is limited in sequencing accuracy, with sequencing-by-synthesis (SBS) methods, which enable high accuracy and coverage, but are limited in read-length. This has helped unveil 41 sites on viral transcripts with potential RNA modifications, as well as an abnormally short poly(A) tail. This gives insight into how the virus may maintain genome integrity, and how it evolves to change host/tissue specificity and drug sensitivity. In short, scientists worldwide now have the blueprint essential to having more accurate diagnostic kits and to eventually find a cure for the coronavirus.
Those interested in learning more can find their work in the most recent edition of Cell.
Written by Cheesue Kim, SNU English Editor, email@example.com
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, firstname.lastname@example.org