Heavily Mutated Covid-19 Variant Spotted, Scientists On Alert


  • Mutations in spike protein make it more difficult for immune cells to combat infection.
  • Viruses change frequently  & show unusual mutations.
  • The first cases of the variation were discovered in Botswana.
  • Persistent infection can lead to a weakened immune system.

A new Covid variety with an “extraordinarily high number” of mutations, according to scientists, may cause new waves of sickness by avoiding the body’s defences as reported by The Guardian.

Few changes 

Although only ten cases in three countries have been confirmed by genomic sequencing, the variant has alarmed some scientists since some of the changes may let the virus elude immunity.

The spike protein, which is used by most vaccines to stimulate the immune system against Covid, contains 32 mutations in the B.1.1.529 variation. In addition to affecting the virus’s capacity to infect cells and disseminate, mutations in the spike protein make it more difficult for immune cells to combat the infection.

Three examples have already been sequenced in Botswana, where the variation was first discovered. Six more have been confirmed in South Africa, with one confirmed in Hong Kong in a tourist returning from the continent.

Novel mutations 

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, shared information about the novel variant on a genome-sharing website, saying that the “very high number of spike mutations suggest this could be of serious concern.”

Peacock said it “very, very much should be observed owing to that horrible spike profile” in a series of tweets, but added that it could be an “odd cluster” that isn’t easily transmissible. He wrote, “I hope that’s the case.”

The UK Health Security Agency’s Covid-19 incident director, Dr Meera Chand, said the agency was continually monitoring the status of Sars-CoV-2 variants as they emerged and developed around the world in collaboration with scientific authorities around the world.

“Because it is in the nature of viruses to change frequently and at random, modest numbers of instances with novel mutations are not uncommon.”

“Any mutations that show signs of spreading are quickly examined,” she said.

New strain

On 11 November, the first cases of the variation were discovered in Botswana, and three days later, the first in South Africa. A 36-year-old male was located in Hong Kong with a negative PCR test before flying from Hong Kong to South Africa, where he stayed from October 22 to November 11. On his return to Hong Kong, he tested negative, but while in quarantine, he tested positive on November 13th.

There is no longer a red list in place in England to impose restrictions on foreign visitors. Scientists will be on the lookout for any signs that the new strain is gaining traction and spreading. Some virologists in South Africa are already concerned, especially in light of the recent increase in B.1.1.529 cases in Gauteng, an urban area that includes Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Weakened immunity system

Two of the alterations in B.1.1.529 boosted infectivity and lowered antibody recognition, according to Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University. “However, an unknown aspect of the virus is its infectiousness, which appears to be what essentially drove the Delta variety. Immune evasion is merely one aspect of what could happen.”

Prof Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, said a huge number of mutations in the variant appeared in a “single burst,” implying it originated after persistent infection in a person with a weakened immune system, such as an untreated HIV/Aids patient.

“At this point, it’s difficult to say how transmissible it is. For the time being, it should be properly studied and analysed, but there’s no cause to be alarmed unless the frequency begins to rise in the near future.”

Did you subscribe to our newsletter?

It’s free! Click here to subscribe!

Source: The Guardian



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.