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Scientists in the UK and US identify hundreds of mutations in the COVID-19 virus

Published on 07/05/20 at 10:42am
Photo by CDC

Two studies from the UK and US have identified hundreds of mutations in COVID-19, which could cause problems for the development of a vaccine.

A study from University College London (UCL) has identified 198 recurring mutations to the virus and detected recurrent mutations that may indicate its ongoing adaptions to a novel human host. One of the authors of the study, Professor Francois Balloux, said: “Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected. So far, we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious.”

Another study from the University of Glasgow also analysed these mutations, and said that these changes did not amount to different strains of the virus, and concluded that there is only one type of the virus spreading at the present time. They also advised “against overinterpretation of genomic data during the pandemic.”

Researchers in America, at Los Alamos National Laboratory, detected 14 mutations in the COVID-19 virus, saying that one of the mutated viruses spike proteins was of urgent concern. This was labeled as Spike D614G. Their research suggests this mutated strain of the virus has become dominant across the world and is different to the one that initially spread. This research analysed 6,000 genetic sequences of the virus from patients around the globe.

Their research paper was published before being peer-reviewed, as the team felt it was important scientists and vaccine manufacturers could see the potential change in COVID-19.

The lead author of the Los Alamos study, Dr Bette Korber, told Sky News that: “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.”

Conor Kavanagh

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