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[Norm’s note: this post (and the evidence it adduces) should be read in conjunction with this post: Question: can mRNA vaccines modify our genes? (i.e., Les vaccins à ARN peuvent-ils modifier nos gènes ?) The short answer to that question appears to be that “yes, yes it can potentially lead to changes in human chromosomes.”]

The coronavirus may sometimes slip its genetic material into human chromosomes—but what does that mean? | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)

By Jon Cohen Dec. 16, 2020 , 6:30 PM

People who recover from COVID-19 sometimes later test positive for SARS-CoV-2, suggesting their immune systems could not ward off a second attack by the coronavirus or that they have a lingering infection. A study now hints at a different explanation in which the virus hides in an unexpected place. The work, only reported in a preprint, suggests the pandemic pathogen takes a page from HIV and other retroviruses and integrates its genetic code—but, importantly, just parts of it—into people’s chromosomes. The phenomenon, if true and frequent, could have profound implications that range from false signals of active infection to misleading results from COVID-19 treatment studies.

The current study only showed this integration in a lab dish, although it also cites published sequence data from humans infected with SARS-CoV-2 that suggest it has happened. The authors emphasize that their results don’t imply that SARS-CoV-2 establishes permanent genetic residence in human cells to keep pumping out new copies, as HIV does. 

Other scientists are divided about the importance of the new work and its relevance to human health, and some are harshly critical. “There are open questions that we’ll have to address,” says molecular biologist Rudolf Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the work.

Yet a few veteran retrovirologists are fascinated. “This is a very interesting molecular analysis and speculation with supportive data provided,” says Robert Gallo, who heads the Institute of Human Virology and looked at the newly posted preprint at Science’s request. “I do not think it is a complete story to be certain … but as is, I like it and my guess is it will be right.”

==> keep reading this article via Science

Related and essential reading (.pdf) : SARS-CoV-2 RNA reverse-transcribed and integrated into the human genome