Are we completely aware of all the viral infections yet? Considering the threats, are we prepared enough to fight these mutations in the already lethal coronavirus? Has the coronavirus started mutating? Are these mutations going to affect the vaccine trials? Are they more deadly than the original one? Let us take a look.
SARS-CoV2, a virus from bats that spilled over to humans, originated in China in December 2019 and has challenged the human race in every way. The virus created panic around the world - overwhelming hospitalization of the infected, millions dead, widespread fear, psychological stress, and social stigma in both COVID-19 infected and uninfected people and financial crisis within the major economies of the planet.
Now, let's mention the elephant in the room; mutations! These mutations appeared to be cool in X-Men, didn't they? Wolverine, Huh! But what is it in real terms? According to research, SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus, spread to every corner of the globe has changed genetically. These mutations are nothing but the behavioral pattern of a virus to change when it multiplies. As it replicates, it's not going to produce exact replicas of itself, leading to the evolution of the latest strains, which can be more or sometimes less effective. Some strains may perish, but the ones that are simpler spread efficiently and survive. This is how SARS-CoV2 is infecting and surviving to a greater extent. According to experts, a virus needs a host to sustain, populate, and expand further. All organisms have to generate an optimal connection with their host to survive and propagate. If the virus is lethal, it kills the host. If a sufficient number of hosts die, the virus dies out too. It is the basic trait of any pathogen to mutate. So, the current strain of COVID-19 continues to infect people and keeps spreading with the aid of hosts. Although most mutations should be neutral, it is our liability to examine if this virus grows weaker or stronger day-by-day. Therefore, it is most important to keep a trace of the newly sequenced SARS-CoV2 genome.
Currently, there are six strains of mutations in coronavirus. The primary one is the L strain, which originated in China in December 2019. Its first mutation is the S strain, which appeared in the beginning of the year, and strains V and G have been discovered at the end of January. Till date, strain G is the foremost widespread. It has mutated into strains GR and GH at the highest rate since February. The recent mutation seen in coronavirus, called D614G, appeared first in Europe and has become the most common strain of the virus in the world. SARS-CoV2 has mutated in a way that its spikes enable it to attack the binding sites easily making them highly contagious. Also, research says, regardless of how vast these mutations are going to be, they're likely to be more contagious than dangerous. So, in the future, when a vaccine develops that proves to be successful, it will work on all kinds of mutations as genetic differences are less.
Experts currently use three bioinformatics tools that are locally accessible for detecting SARS-CoV2 mutations. The Los Alamos National Laboratory and CoV-Glue have released a web-based platform that can only analyze SARS-CoV-2 sequences rather than other microbial species. The third and most recent is a command-line based Python package, Microbial Genomics Mutant Tracker (MicroGMT), used to detect mutations from their sequence data. Researchers have advised that in order to protect public health, these mutations must be traced everywhere, and its effects studied in terms of disease severity, transmission, host range, and vulnerability to vaccine-induced immunity.
This article has been written by Rutuja Gosavi for The Paradigm
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