In a new study, researchers have discovered a new variant of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The new variant carries a mutation identical to the U.K. strain, but it likely arose in a virus strain already present in the United States.
The researchers also report the evolution of another U.S. strain that acquired three other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.
The study was conducted by scientists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine.
The team has been sequencing the genome of SARS-Cov-2 viruses in patients with COVID-19 since March 2020 in order to monitor the evolution of the virus.
The new variant was discovered in one patient from Ohio, so researchers do not yet know the prevalence of the strain in the population.
In contrast, the evolving strain with the three new mutations has become the dominant virus in Columbus during a three week period in late December 2020 and January.
The team says this new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases they have studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution.
They know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.
Like the U.K. strain, mutations detected in both viruses affect the spikes that stud the surface of SARS-Cov-2. The spikes enable the virus to attach to and enter human cells.
Also like the U.K. strain, the mutations in the Columbus strain are likely to make the virus more infectious, making it easier for the virus to pass from person to person.
The team says the big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective.
At this point, they have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.
The discovery of the Columbus variant, COH.20G/501Y, suggests that the same mutation may be occurring independently in multiple parts of the world during the past few months.
One author of the study is Dr. Dan Jones, vice-chair of the division of molecular pathology.
The study is published in BioRxiv.
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