Professor Eddie Holmes, who co-authored the publication of the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 through work with colleagues in Wuhan, China speaks to Professor Andrew Pollard about his scientific career and this pivotal pandemic work.
An interview between Prof Sir Andrew Pollard and Prof Eddie Holmes, an evolutionary biologist, fellow of the Academy of Sciences in Australia and the Royal Society. The discussion delves into the evolution of coronaviruses, with a particular focus on the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. The interview begins by exploring Eddie's academic journey, from a background in social anthropology to his transition into the field of viruses and evolutionary genetics. The conversation highlights the rapid mutation rates of viruses, particularly viruses like HIV, which mutate daily in infected individuals. The episode develops further, discussing how Eddie found himself at the forefront of pandemic research, thanks to his previous work and collaborations in China. He explains the sequence of events leading to his involvement, from collaborating with researchers in Wuhan and Shanghai to the critical role in identifying the virus responsible for the outbreak and sharing this information internationally.
The conversation then explores the role of mutation tracking in determining the cross-species transmission of viruses, such as COVID-19, which allows scientists to trace the origins of a virus and determine potential reservoir species. Eddie provides insights into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 through natural mutation between species, and highlights the challenges and criticisms faced by scientists involved in the investigation.
The discussion also explores how the environment, which includes factors like drugs, vaccines, and the host's immune response, influences the mutations in viruses. Eddie explains that the environment acts as a selective sieve, allowing certain mutations to survive and shaping the evolution of the virus. Regarding the long-term control of highly mutable viruses, such as HIV and SARS-CoV-2, Eddie suggests that while predicting and targeting the right mutations is challenging, it is not impossible. He discusses the potential for AI to improve prediction and intervention strategies. However, the ongoing evolution of viruses and the need to adapt drugs and vaccines to new variants remain challenges to be addressed. The podcast provides valuable insights into the fascinating world of viral evolution, offering a glimpse into the complexities of viruses and their impact on human health.