According to a study published in the journal Cell, a new form of the coronavirus has spread from Europe to the US. Although the latest version of the virus spreads faster than the previous one, but it seem to make people any sicker.
“It is now the dominant form infecting people,” Erica Ollmann Saphire of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, who worked on the study, said.
The latest study is an updated edition of what the same team had published earlier in the year.
Shared information on genetic sequences had indicated that a certain mutant version of the virus was taking over.
Now the team has not only checked more genetic sequences, but they have also run experiments involving people, animals and cells in lab dishes that show the mutated version is more common and that it’s more infectious than other versions.
“We do know that the new virus is fitter. It doesn’t look at first glance as if it is worse,” Saphire said.
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Cell study has confirmed what many other studies have also said that the mutation had made the new variant of virus more common, and less dangeros.
The researchers call the new mutation G614, and they show that it has almost completely replaced the first version to spread in Europe and the US, one called D614.
The study presents evidence to show that there are now more SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the human population globally that have the G614 form of the Spike protein versus the D614 form that was originally identified from the first human cases in Wuhan, China.
“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 wrote in their report. “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.”
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“It is possible to track SARS-CoV-2 evolution globally because researchers worldwide are rapidly making their viral sequence data available through the GISAID viral sequence database,” Korber said. Currently tens of thousands of sequences are available through this project, and this enabled Korber and the research team to identify the emergence of the D614G variant.
The team tested samples taken from patients across Europe and the US and sequenced the genomes. They compared these genome sequences to what’s been shared publicly. Comparing these sequences helped them draw a map of the spread of the two forms.
“Through March 1, 2020, the G614 variant was rare outside of Europe, but the end of March it had increased in frequency worldwide,” they wrote.
Even when the D614 form had caused widespread epidemics, in places such as Wales and Nottingham in England, as well as in Washington state, G614 took over once it appeared, they found.
“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. There are a few exceptions, including the Santa Clara, California, area and Iceland, where the older, D614 form was never replaced by the newer, G variant.
The study, “Tracking changes in SARS-CoV-2 Spike: evidence that D614G increases infectivity of the COVID-19 virus” was supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) part of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR); Genome Research Limited, operating as the Wellcome Sanger Institute; CoVIC, INV-006133 of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard, Wellcome; private philanthropic support, as well as the Overton family; a FastGrant, from Emergent Ventures, in aid of COVID-19 research; and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Interagency Agreement No. AAI12007-001-00000, and the Los Alamos Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.