SoAS Research Seminar Series: Inner World of SARS-CoV-2: Biology and Food Safety

Online via Webex

The School of Arts and Sciences is organizing a joint seminar on the Inner World of SARS-CoV-2: Biology and Food Safety, part of the school’s ongoing Research Seminar Series.

The lecture will be presented by LAU Professor of Microbiology Sima Tokajian and LAU Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology Hussein F. Hassan.

Click here to join the seminar. 


What are the marker mutations used by GISAID and PANGOLIN for the Phylogenetic assignment of circulating CoV-2?

In December 2019, unknown cases of pneumonia were detected in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Infected individuals exhibited symptoms similar to that of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Deep sequencing identified the causative agent as a novel β-coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Molecular characterization of the CoV-2 genome showed 80 percent sequence similarity to SARS-CoV and 96 percent to the RaTG13 bat-CoV.

Coronaviruses have the largest genomes of any known RNA viruses. CoV-2 has a single-stranded positive-sense RNA genome that codes for 10 genes producing 26 proteins. The application of genomics is critical to rapidly identify mutations, track and trace the ongoing outbreak, and determine CoV-2 transmission chains as lockdown measures ease globally. Mutations introduced are of also interest for future studies predicting the speed with which coronaviruses can evade immunization efforts.

Based on marker mutations GISAID established a phylogenetic grouping system, which later was improved with more detailed lineages using PANGOLIN. Our preliminary data revealed the common mutations, the phylogenetic grouping and showed that cases were representative of the global diversity of CoV-2.

Have you been abiding to the good practices of food safety and shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A cross-sectional study was conducted by LAU through an online questionnaire about demographics and questions related to knowledge and practices in terms of hand maintenance, mask placing, and food shopping in Lebanon.

The aim of the study was to assess the level of food safety and food shopping knowledge and practices among residents of Lebanon during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to identify their socio-demographic determinants. The survey was filled by 1,337 participants. On average, participants scored 73.6±15.0 and 67.5±17.9 percent on knowledge and practices, respectively. In terms of best practices by section, they scored 77±22, 51±42, and 65±23 percent on hand maintenance, mask placing and shopping, respectively.

Hand maintenance best practices score was significantly affected by gender; mask placing best practices score by age and major of study; shopping best practices score by gender; overall best practices score by gender and major of study; food safety knowledge score by gender, age, marital status, educational level, and major of study. Food safety practices and knowledge scores were significantly related with a weak correlation coefficient. The main groups of concern were identified for future interventions.


Dr. Sima Tokajian is the chairperson of the Department of Natural Sciences in SoAS. She is at the forefront of using next-generation sequencing to study problems ranging from infectious disease diagnostic to outbreak epidemiology, microbial pathogenesis, microbiome, and resistance mechanisms. Recently, and with the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, her lab using sequenced genomes was able to identify functional domains in SARS-CoV-2 and is currently looking into the phylogenetic networks of SARS-CoV-2 genomes sampled from across the country.

Dr. Hussein Hassan holds a BSc. and MSc. in Food Technology from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, in addition to a PhD in Food Process Engineering from McGill University, Canada. He acts as associate chair of the Natural Sciences Department, associate professor of food Science and technology at LAU, and academic coordinator of the Food Safety Training Program. His main research area revolves around food waste, food processing, and non-microbial food safety. Dr. Hassan has been acting as trainer and consultant for local and international entities, including FAO, UNEP, Ministry of Economy and Trade, Ministry of Industry, USAID, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, among others.