STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – An international team is trying to better understand genetic mutations in the Coronavirus. It’s the kind of work that can lead to more effective treatment and maybe even a vaccine. One the team’s principal investigators, who also happens to be an Assistant Biology professor at Mississippi State, is a 12 News Health Care Hero.

Jean-Francois Gout is passionate about mutation rates in viruses, and he’s just the kind of person the world needs right now.

The Mississippi State University Assistant Professor in Computational Biology explains,”Well, the virus is always mutating. Every time the virus replicates itself, there is a certain probability that it is going make a mistake, and these mistakes in the mutations happen all the time.”

Some mutations could make the virus more lethal, but most are bad for  it. Gout is part of an international team working through the National Science Foundation to better understand Covid mutations. Their mission is twofold.

Gout explains, “The first is to quantify just how frequently these mutations occur.”

The faster the virus evolves, the harder it could be to treat. A low mutation rate should make it easier to vaccinate against. Understanding its mutation frequency will also give us a better idea of when Covid-19 got here, and how it spread.

The second part or their mission is to locate mutations that don’t appear anywhere else.

Gout says, “We’re trying to find the mutations that would be genetic dead ends for the virus, and this would target areas of the virus that are more vulnerable.”

To do all that one of Gout’s co-principal investigators in the Netherlands is examining Covid-19 samples from around the world. She’ll extract RNA, and her findings will be sent to another investigator at the University of Southern California for sequencing. Then it will be up to Gout to analyze all that data. He’s hoping to have meaningful results later this Summer.

Gout concludes, “We are trying to do it right, so it takes a bit of time to do these experiments, also keep in mind, we  are doing is just a tiny little piece of the whole research that is going on.” 

Tiny pieces have never been more important.

Gout is quick to point out that the virus samples will stay in The Netherlands. He is also working to incorporate genome analysis of a virus into a course he teaches at Mississippi State. It’s a subject that could not be more timely.