A recent study has identified a new strain of the coronavirus which appears to have spread across the globe since the mid of March. The strain is much more contagious than the one which was responsible for early outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in China and other countries in late December and January.
In accordance with the findings, the coronavirus mutated at the beginning of the month of February and quickly spread in different countries within Europe. Eventually, the infection caused by the new strain also reach the east coast in the US and caused an even higher number of deaths and cases.
Currently, this new strain is dominant and responsible for the majority of confirmed three million cases around the globe, and researchers have also stated that it may cause re-infections in the second wave of COVID-19.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, can be found on BioRxiv – a platform that is used by researchers to share their work and findings prior to it undergoing peer review.
Read the new study here.
According to researchers, the research was published on BioRxiv in order to help other collaborative studies and research on the novel coronavirus, its treatment, and the development of vaccines.
Secondly, it may primarily help the ongoing trials on vaccines are they are based on research on the previous strain of the coronavirus and may not be as effective on the new strain.
Previously, the scientists involved in clinical trials on vaccines for COVID-19 had stated initial scientific evidence on the behavior of the novel coronavirus shows that it is unlikely to mutate which means that the infection may not require a new vaccine every year similar to the way influenza virus does in every new season.
However, the expected behavior of the coronavirus may not be true as suggested by researchers in the Las Alamos report. The newly identified mutation by the report impacts the spikes present on the outer layer of the coronavirus which enables them to enter a healthy cell.
While it is not clear how the mutation helps the new strain help the virus attack or spread, it has been noted that that mutation allowed the virus to become even more contagious and spread throughout particular countries in comparison with the early strain that caused the outbreak in Wuhan.
These conclusions were made after a computational analysis of over six thousand coronavirus genetic sequences that were obtained from the Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza Data.
The team at Los Alamos along with researchers from the University of Sheffield and Duke University was able to identify fourteen mutations occurring in approximately thirty thousand base pairs of the RNA which forms the genome of the coronavirus.
The newly founds mutations in the spikes present on the exterior of the coronavirus was caused by a mutation known as D614G.
Bette Korber, who is one of the leading authors of the study and a computational biologist at Los Alamos commented on these findings, saying “The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form. When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible.”
The research received a mixed reaction from the medical community. While the majority agreed that the findings are important especially in the development of a vaccine against COVID-19, nearly all also agreed that there is a need for further investigation and more experimental verification.