Studying Biology is important to everyday life because it allows humans to better understand their bodies, their resources and potential threats in the environment. Biology is the study of all living things, so it helps people to understand every organism alive, from the smallest bacteria to biggest living organism. Studying Biology has also helped doctors learn how to keep people healthy and fight off disease. Biologist have learned that things called pathogens, which are themselves other living entities, cause diseases. By understanding how these dangerous organisms work, the new science can fight them off. Because of studying biology, many people have lived long lives as they have been able to avoid diseases. We are currently in the midst of what could be the most profound change to our lives in generations. A large proportion of the world’s population is currently under some kind of lockdown, and this is affecting both life in general and also the way we do science in particular.
It has been a few months since a pandemic called COVID-19 was first reported in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China. And the number of cases is still increasing, over a billion people under some form of stay-at-home orders. Pandemics are certainly not a new occurrence in human history, with the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 being particularly fresh in memory. The quality and sophistication of modern medicine and technology are at their peak. Furthermore, we live in an era of rapid and efficient global communication and collaboration of nations. And yet the causative coronavirus, is sweeping through the world with a devastating death toll, bringing healthcare systems to a breaking point, grounding half the global population and shattering our perceptions of normality. The forensic analysis of how we got to this point will have to wait while we fight this crisis.
How are governments, and individuals, supposed to react to an unprecedent crisis? The impact of COVID-19 is resonating across the world, and yet we know so little about the virus and how people across different parts of the world are modifying their behaviour in response to the threat.
So, what is COVIID-19? In January 2020, a novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV (temporary name), was officially identified as the cause of an outbreak of viral pneumonia in Wuhan. Coronaviruses (CoVs) are enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA viruses that belong to the subfamily Coronavirinae, family Coronavirdiae, order Nidovirales. The virion has a nucleocapsid composed of genomic RNA and phosphorylated nucleocapsid (N) protein, which is buried inside phospholipid bilayers and covered by spike proteins (Li J Med Virol 2020, see below). The membrane (M) protein (a type III transmembrane glycoprotein) and the envelope (E) protein are located among the spike (S) proteins in the virus envelope. CoVs were given their name based on a characteristic crown-like appearance.
Historically, this pandemic has sometimes led to important changes. The probable source of the new coronavirus – so-called wet markets, at which live animals are sold and slaughtered before customers’ eyes – should be banned not only in China, but worldwide.
We no longer live in an era where we have to rely on assumptions or superstitions to understand what’s occurring. And now that we already know what the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is and we are also very aware how it spreads through the human population; we must also know how to fight it. We must follow what our government told us, all the rules, protocols etc. are made for our own safety. This is indeed a serious thing so all we have to do is to obey. We are not only the ones who are suffering, biologist/scientist are also facing the same daily challenges as all other citizens, such as coping with isolation, helping the vulnerable and obtaining basic food and medical supplies. It’s not only time to listen to what science tells us about it, but to understand that they are still finding ways and cure to this pandemic. They are conducting studies and research for the possible medicines or vaccines for this virus. Yes, this is the role played by the scientific world in the midst of crisis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the world, we must reassess the principles of biology not just for us to be aware but also to guide us the way we operate in society. In the face of crisis, we must lead with humanity and science. To confront emerging viral threats, nations have implemented strategies to prepare for pandemics and to control virus spread. Despite of our enhanced community quarantine measures, we find ourselves in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The doctors, nurses and all other healthcare workers who, faced with unprecedented challenges, are bearing the brunt of this pandemic on the front lines have been nothing short of inspiring. With many laboratories in several countries now closed, researchers have also rallied to fight the pandemic. Scientists from around the world have rapidly diverted efforts toward all aspects of COVID-19 work, from basic biology and immunology to diagnostic testing, vaccines and therapeutic interventions. Volunteers have been offering their skills as part of international collaborations, and shuttered labs have been donating reagents and essential lab and personal protective equipment or PPE. If there is a silver lining in this challenging situation, it is seeing this community spirit flourish and also experiencing the shift of an often science-skeptic public, who are now turning to scientists and doctors with renewed trust. It is essential to maintain this renewed focus by the public and governments on science, medicine and technology even after the threat of COVID-19 is addressed.
Let’s see how these modern frontiers attained in the field of the new science and biology this COVID-19 pandemic: Within just weeks of the first reported case, scientists had not only identified the microscopic virus responsible for the disease, but had sequenced its entire genome. Back when just a few hundred cases had been reported, scientists already understood how it was transmitted from person-to-person, and had quantified how contagious the disease actually was. And when only the first few dozen people had died from it, scientists and medical professionals on the front lines were putting out reports that detailed the various stages of the disease, from asymptomatic and contagious to the various symptoms and the complications that arose in the most severe cases. By the time January was over, we already knew what the ‘best practices’ would be, as a collective human society, to minimize the deaths and infections from COVID-19.
Even though those recommendations were not sufficiently heeded, our scientific, biological and medical knowledge has continued to aid us in the fight against this ongoing global pandemic. Drug treatments for COVID-19 are already in the experimental phase, with many clinical trials ongoing and a number of vaccine candidates under development. Research into blood therapies, including plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, provides hope for a treatment and possibly a cure.
Indeed, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is having a tremendous impact on our world at the present time, but our response can demonstrate just how far we’ve come as a civilization. The entire Universe obeys the same scientific rules, and the better (and more fundamentally) we study it, the better prepared we’ll be for the challenges that come our way. The investments we make today will lead to tomorrow’s knowledge, and in turn, the day after tomorrow’s tools and techniques that lead to a better world for all of humanity.