Last month, a pre-paper was released by Los Alamos National Laboratory prior to undergoing peer-review showed that the SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, has mutated and is currently the dominant strain and responsible for the growing pandemic around the world.
The paper, along with a number of other studies, has added to the fears of a second and possibly more dangerous wave of COVID-19 in all countries as well as the high risk of contracting the virus and getting infected again.
According to the findings of the Los Alamos paper, the new mutation has occurred on the infamous spikes present on the outer layer of SARS-CoV-2.
Read the paper here.
While it is unclear how exactly does this mutation benefits the virus, the authors suggested that it is primarily the reason why the virus was able to quickly transmit across Western Europe to the East Coast in the US as it has made the virus more potent and contagious.
The newly identified strand of SARS-CoV-2 begins to spread at the start of February from China and spread elsewhere in the world. The latest waves and fast spread of COVID-19 in newly-hit countries are because of the mutation.
More specifically, the authors explained in the paper in the words “The mutation Spike is of urgent concern; it began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form,”
The identification of the new strand of SARS-CoV-2 is important given that it may affect the development of potential antiviral medication or even a vaccine for COVID-19. If the ongoing research is based on the previous strand of the virus, the authors state that the developed vaccine may not be as effective on the new strand.
So far, the study has received a lot of attention from the medical community. While the majority of the researchers agree that the findings of the study may be significant, they also state that further investigation is required on the matter.
This is because even if a new strand has been found, there is no scientific evidence and testing to prove that the mutation allows the virus to become more potent and transmit even more easily than before.
The associate professor at Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, William Hanage recently wrote on his twitter that “This variant might have been lucky and got introduced to places outside Wuhan and different approaches to social distancing early on,”
“Essentially the virus has been mutating… That doesn’t mean that much. Mutations are what happens when genomes replicate. It comes with the territory like showers with the springtime.” He added.
Previous research has indicated that coronaviruses are prone to mutating during the process of replication and survival especially because they are dependent on the human cells to divide. As the RNA is reproduced during the division, small errors occur naturally, which then paves the way for mutations to happen.
In accordance with the findings of a paper by t University College London, around one hundred and ninety-eight sites in the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 has already had mutations.
The professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Warwick, Lawrence Young, states that there are no confirmations regarding any new information on the novel coronavirus unless there is enough medical literature to support it.
Although there is a lot of ongoing research on COVID-19, it is still limited and scientists have not understood a lot of aspects related to the virus. The SARS-CoV-2 does not respond like previously identified viruses like HIV.
Therefore, it is also unlikely for the new coronavirus to mutate at a similar rate as HIV did. Secondly, another paper by the University of Glasgow, which appears in the journal Virus Evolution, only found a single strand of SARS-CoV-2.
This highlights the fact that the knowledge of behavior and mutation of the new virus is still limited and even if mutations do occur, they have already been expected by the medical community and do not mean the virus will become more dangerous.