Scientists puzzle over coronavirus mutations impact

Scientists puzzle over coronavirus mutations impact
Researchers have been tracking changes to the 'spike' of the virus. Source: We Are Covert
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Daily US Times: Researchers in the UK and US have identified hundreds of mutations to coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19, but none has yet established what this will mean for how effective a vaccine might be or for virus spread in the population.

Viruses mutate – it’s what they do, but the question is: which of these mutations actually do anything to change the severity or infectiousness of the disease?

Preliminary research from the US has suggested one particular mutation – D614G – is becoming dominant and could make the disease more infectious, and perhaps more severe.

But the research hasn’t yet been reviewed by other scientists and formally published.

The researchers, from New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory have been tracking changes to the “spike” of the virus that gives it its distinctive shape, using a database called the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID).

The researchers noted that there seems to be something about this particular mutation that makes the virus grow more quickly – but the consequences of this are not yet clear.

The research team analysed UK data from coronavirus patients in Sheffield, although they found people with that particular mutation of the virus seemed to have a larger amount of the virus in their samples, they didn’t find clear evidence that those people became sicker or stayed in hospital for longer.

‘Mutations not a bad thing’

A study from University College London (UCL) identified 198 recurring mutations to the coronavirus.

Professor Francois Balloux, one of the authors of the study, 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.”

He added: “So far, we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious.”

Researchers from the University of Glasgow also analysed mutations. Its study said these changes did not amount to different strains of the virus. They concluded that only one type of the virus is currently circulating.

It is important to monitor small changes to the structure of the virus in understanding the development of vaccines. Take the ‘flu virus: it mutates so fast that the vaccine has to be adjusted every year to deal with the specific strain in circulation.

Meanwhile, there are several attempt ongoing to discover a vaccine. The US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised remdesivir for emergency use of coronavirus treatment. The drug is basically an Ebola drug.