The genetic variant of coronavirus that has been surging worldwide infects human cells more rapidly than the one that originated in China, according to a new study published in the medical journal Cell.
According to the lab-based study, the current mutation of Covid-19 is more transmissible than the one faced in the early outbreak. This idea has not been proven yet.
The United States’ top infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci commented to the Journal of the American Medical Association. He was not involved in the research. He said, “I think the data is showing that there is a single mutation that actually makes the virus be able to replicate better, and maybe have high viral loads,”
“We don’t have a connection to whether an individual does worse with this or not. It just seems that the virus replicates better and maybe more transmissible, but this is still at the stage of trying to confirm that,”
Researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Duke University in North Carolina worked with the University of Sheffield’s COVID-19 Genomics UK research group to examine the genome samples published on GISAID.
According to the international news agency AFP, They found that the current variant, called “D614G,” makes a small but potent change in the “spike” protein that protrudes from the surface of the virus, which it uses to invade and infect human cells.
The research paper was first posted by scientists to the medical preprint site bioRxiv in April. It got over 200,000 views.
However, the suggestion was initially criticized as scientists had not proven yet whether the mutation itself was responsible for its domination. Other factors could have influenced the genome. Additional experiments are likely to be conducted to work on this matter.
Laboratory experiments have shown that the new variant is three to six times more able to infect human cells.
“It seems likely that it’s a fitter virus,” said Erica Ollmann Saphire, who carried out one of the experiments at La Jolla Institute for Immunology.
Nathan Grubaugh, a virologist at the Yale School of Public Health, who did not take part in the study, said that the expansion of the variant “whether through natural selection or chance, means that this variant now is the pandemic.”
He wrote in a commentary piece, “While there are still important studies needed to determine if this will influence drug or vaccine development in any meaningful way, we don’t expect that D614G will alter our control measures or make individual infections worse,”
“It’s more of a live look into science unfolding: an interesting discovery was made that potentially touches millions of people, but we don’t yet know the full scope or impact.”