Written By @Pistolwhippedya
An international team of researchers concluded their global study and found strong evidence of a new mutation of the coronavirus that makes it more likely to spread but doesn’t make people any sicker than the earlier strain.
Erica Ollmann Saphire of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium says the new strain spread from Europe to the United States and “is now the dominant form infecting people.” The new version seems to multiply faster in the upper respiratory tract area, which helps to explain why it’s more contagious. However, tests conducted on 1,000 hospitalized patients in Britain did not find that it made people sicker than the original strain.
According to CNN, the Journal Cell published a recent study that supplemented earlier work by the group, which was released on a preprint server at the beginning of 2020. The team was able to determine that a certain mutant version of the virus was taking over thanks to shared information regarding genetic sequencing.
The group went outside the shared genetic sequencing information by conducting experiments on people, animals, and cells in lab dishes, which also indicated the new form is not only more common but also more infectious than the versions before.
“We do know that the new virus is fitter. It doesn’t look at first glance as if it is worse,” Saphire said, adding that the mutation involves the spike protein, which is the structure the virus uses to enter cells it affects.
The next point of focus is for researchers to determine whether the new strand effects if the virus can be contained by a vaccine. Vaccines that are currently being tested concentrate on the spike protein but were made using the earlier strands.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Researchers are calling the new mutation G614 and say it helped confirm their earlier work suggesting the mutation had made the new variant more common and has now almost completely replaced the original version, D614. “Our global tracking data show that the G614 variant in Spike has spread faster than D614,” theoretical biologist Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory and colleagues reported. “We interpret this to mean that the virus is likely to be more infectious,” they added. “Interestingly, we did not find evidence of G614 impact on disease severity.”
Although he did not participate in the study, Lawrence Young, a professor of medical oncology at UK’s University of Warwick, is hopeful that the new findings mean the virus might become less pathogenic. “The current work suggests that while the G614 variant may be more infectious, it is not more pathogenic. There is a hope that as SARS-CoV-2 infection spreads, the virus might become less pathogenic,” he said in a statement.
The G614 strand was bleak at the start of March 2020, but by the end of the month, the strain had increased its frequency and has now taken over.
“The increase in G614 frequency often continues well after stay-at-home orders are in place and past the subsequent two-week incubation period,” they added. Few exceptions include the Santa Clara, California, area, and Iceland, where the G variant never replaced the older, D614 form.
Researches say more work is needed to solidify the findings to see what the new mutation means for the epidemic and for those that catch it. While also watching out for other mutations.
“We might have dodged a bullet with this particular mutation, Saphire said. “However, that is not to say that another mutation couldn’t come on top of this one,” she added. It would behoove us to remain vigilant.”