Over the last couple of weeks, researches from US and UK have hundreds of mutant variations of COVID-19.
But this is not necessarily a more dangerous situation. And, it is important to know that virus by nature will mutate.
Whenever a virus infects a host, it makes new copies of itself, and it starts by duplicating its genes. But this process is not perfect, and the duplicates end up with errors. Basically, these are called mutations.
There’s no fixed threshold for when a lineage suddenly counts as a strain. Viruses change all the time; strains arise when they change in meaningful ways.
For now there no clear evidence that the pandemic virus has evolved into significantly different forms.
Studies across the globe
Preliminary research from the US has suggested one particular mutation – D614G – is becoming dominant and could make the disease more infectious.
Though this hasn’t yet been reviewed by other scientists and formally published.
According to the researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, the mutation causes the virus to grow more quickly. This observation came from tracking changes to the “spike” of the virus that gives it its distinctive shape. This was done using a database called the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID).
Another study from University College London (UCL) identified 198 recurring mutations to the virus.
One of its authors, 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.”
Meanwhile, a study from the University of Glasgow, said that some of these changes did not amount to different strains of the virus. They concluded that only one type of virus is currently circulating.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is planning to study whether the novel coronavirus strain in India has undergone mutation.
According to a senior scientist of the country’s apex health research body, determining whether or not the SARS-CoV2 strain has changed form will help in ensuring the effectiveness of a potential vaccine. “The study will also indicate whether it has become more virulent and increased transmission capability.”
Affecting vaccine development
These researches on the small changes in the virus plays a vital role in developing an effective vaccine.
This is because many of the current vaccines under development target these distinctive spikes. The vaccine would make your body recognize a unique element of the spike, thereafter building immunity towards it. But if that spike is changing, a vaccine developed this way could become less effective.
At the moment this is all theoretical. Scientists don’t yet have enough information to say what changes to the virus’s genome will mean.