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Coronavirus mutation may make it more contagious: study



Coronavirus mutation may make it more contagious

During the second wave of COVID-1

9 cases in the summer of 2020, the number of virus strains present in various zip codes in Houston. The number of strains is represented by the color spectrum from blue (0 strains) to red (50 strains). Image courtesy: Houston Methodist Church/University of Texas at Austin.

A study involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston found that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may make it more infectious.Based on papers published in peer-reviewed journals Biotechnology, The mutation called D614G is in the spike protein, which pry open our cells to enter the virus. So far, this is the largest peer-reviewed study of the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence in a metropolitan area in the United States.

The paper states: “The virus mutates due to neutral drift, which only means random genetic changes that do not help or harm the virus and the pressure of the immune system,” said Ilya Finkelstein, associate professor of molecular biology. The University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study. The research was conducted by scientists at Houston Methodist Hospital in UT Austin and elsewhere.

During the first wave of the pandemic, 71% of the new coronaviruses found in Houston patients had this mutation. When the second wave of the summer outbreak hit Houston, the incidence of this mutation had jumped to 99.9%. This reflects the trends observed throughout the world. A study published in July based on more than 28,000 genome sequences found that variants carrying the D61 4G mutation became the global dominant form of SARS-CoV-2 in about a month. SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

So why is a strain with this mutation better than a strain without this mutation?

Maybe they are more contagious. A study of more than 25,000 genome sequences in the UK found that viruses with this mutation spread slightly faster than viruses without this mutation, and resulted in larger infection groups. Natural selection will favor strains that are easier to spread. But not all scientists believe this. Some people have proposed another explanation, called the “founder effect.” In this case, the D614G mutation may be more common among the first viruses to enter Europe and North America, essentially making them second to none other strains.

Spike proteins also continue to accumulate other mutations of unknown significance. The Houston Methodist-UT Austin research team also showed that at least one of these mutations can make the spikes evade humans’ natural neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 infection. This may make it easier for this virus variant to slip through our immune system. Although it is not yet clear, whether it is converted to it is also easier to spread between individuals.

The good news is that this mutation is rare and does not seem to make the disease worse in infected patients. According to Finkelstein, the team did not see viruses that had learned to evade first-generation vaccines and therapeutic antibody preparations.

Finkelstein said: “As the virus spreads around the world, it continues to mutate.” “Real-time surveillance work like our research will ensure that global vaccines and treatments are always one step ahead.”

Scientists point out that there are 285 mutations in thousands of infections, although most of the mutations do not seem to have a significant effect on the severity of the disease. Ongoing research is continuing to monitor the third wave of COVID-19 patients and characterize how the virus adapts to the neutralizing antibodies produced by our immune system. Each new infection is a roll of the dice, which is an additional opportunity to form more dangerous mutations.

James Musser, the lead author of the Houston Methodist Church, told the Washington Post: “We have given this virus a lot of opportunities.” “Currently there is a large population.”

Several other authors from UT Austin also contributed to this work: visiting scholar Jimmy Gollihar, associate professor of molecular biology Jason S. McLellan and graduate students Chia-Wei Chou, Kamyab Javanmardi and Hung-Che Kuo.

The UT Austin team tested different genetic variants of the viral spike protein, which can cause it to infect host cells, measure the stability of the protein and observe its binding to receptors on the host cell and neutralizing antibodies degree. Earlier this year, McClellan and his research team at UT Austin collaborated with researchers from the National Institutes of Health to develop the first 3-D map of the coronavirus spike protein. The innovations in this map have now been incorporated Several leading candidate vaccines are being designed.

The researchers found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was introduced into the Houston area from different geographical areas several times and independently from virus strains from Europe, Asia, South America and other parts of the United States. Soon after Houston reported COVID-19 cases, the community spread widely.

An early version of the paper was posted to the preprint server medRxiv last month.


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More information:
The molecular structure of the early spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus in major metropolitan areas and the second wave of large-scale spread, Biotechnology, DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02707-20, race.asm.org/content/11/6/e02707-20

Journal information:
Biotechnology

Provided by the University of Texas at Austin

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