New, more infectious strain of Covid-19 now dominates global cases

Henrietta Strickland
July 3, 2020

The lab-based research suggests this current mutation is more transmissible between people in the real world compared to the previous iteration, but this hasn't yet been proven.

They found that the current variant, called "D614G", makes a small but potent change in the "spike" protein that protrudes from the surface of the virus, which it uses to invade and infect human cells.

Now the team has not only verified more genetic sequences, but has also conducted experiments on people, animals, and cells in laboratory dishes that show that the mutated version is more common and more infectious than other versions. She pointed out there are certain "domains" of SARS-CoV-2 that are "more critical", such as the spike protein.

The full peer-reviewed study published today confirms this, and also that the new D614G genome mutation variant is also more infectious under laboratory conditions.

"We know the new virus is in better shape".

"These results show SG614 is more stable than SD614, consistent with epidemiological data suggesting that viruses with SG614 transmit more efficiently", said Cho and co-researchers in the report.

"The researchers call the new mutation G614, and they show that it has nearly completely replaced the first version to spread in Europe and the United States, one called D614".

"The D614G variant first came to our attention in early April, as we had observed a strikingly repetitive pattern", said study lead author Bette Korber from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US. "We interpret this to mean that the virus is likely to be more infectious", they add. "Interestingly, we did not find evidence of G614 impact on disease severity", reads the story.

Virologist at the Yale School of Public Health Nathan Grubaugh, who was not involved in the study, said the results do not change much for the general public. "There is hope that as the SARS-CoV-2 infection spreads, the virus could become less pathogenic", he's a statement.

The team tested samples taken from patients across Europe and the U.S. and sequenced the genomes. Comparing these sequences helped them draw a map of the spread of the two forms.

"Dynamic tracking of variant frequencies revealed a recurrent pattern of G614 increase at multiple geographic levels: national, regional and municipal".

"The increase in G614 frequency often continues long after the stay-at-home orders are in place and after the next two-week incubation period", they added.

The new findings may have implications for vaccine research, according to Dr Montefiore.

British professor Lawrence Young assumes that the new version of coronavirus is less pathogenic and patients tend to cope with symptoms easier, and it could be good news.

Other mutations usually go along with the G614 mutation, but it's not clear what effect they will have. "The earliest sequence we detected that carried all 4 mutations was sampled in Italy on February 20", they wrote.

It's now a frantic race to bring the first vaccine against COVID-19 online as quickly as possible before the natural mutations of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), the virus that causes COVID-19, render this new vaccine less effective.

By taking frequent samples the researchers discovered that the peak viral load was reached three days after the monkeys were infected.

More experiments are needed to see how long this immune defense remains, the authors said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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