Scientists are hurrying to understand why a new strain of coronavirus that emerged in England in September appears to spread far more rapidly than earlier variants.
According to British scientists, the initial conclusion is that the virus has mutated on the surface of the virus to replace the so-called spike protein, which increases the ability of the protein to cling and enter human cells. These changes allow mutations, known as N501Y, to spread 70% faster than earlier versions of the virus, preliminary analysis suggests.
Neville Sanjana of the New York Genome Center says there is no evidence to suggest that variants have spread to the US
Viruses are mutated all the time and coronaviruses are fewer than some others, such as the cause of influenza. Sometimes these accidental changes change the characteristics of the virus and sometimes not.
Scientists have identified 23 genetic changes on the new version, an unusually large number, some of which are associated with changes in proteins made by the virus.
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The spike protein is located at the apex of the spikes shown on the graphic representation of the virus and gives it a crown-like form, from which coronavirues derive their name. Spike proteins contain amino acids that use an enzyme in the body, called furin, to dissolve cell coatings and allow the virus to enter.
Three main questions are now being investigated: is the new variant more contagious, is it likely to be fatal or cause serious illness, and is it likely to defeat the body’s immune responses, including those encouraged by the vaccine is?
Provisional answers to those questions, as outlined by British scientific advisors on Saturday, are yes, no and no.
The British government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Valence, said on Saturday that three types of studies – the genetic make-up, statistics, and labs of the virus – have come together to show that this version is significantly more widespread in people than previously Is prone Strains.
He said the variant first arrived in September, either in London – where it was identified on 21 September or in the adjacent counties of Kent, where it was found on 20 September. By mid-November, 28% of cases in London accounted for the new version. In the week starting December 9, it accounted for 62% of cases in the capital.
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“It is becoming the dominant version; It is beating all others in terms of transmission, ”he told a press conference on Saturday.
An early description of the variant, published online by scientists linked to a British effort to track the genetic variations of the virus, suggested that the new strain may develop in someone suffering from chronic infection, possibly a weakened immune system. because of.
Mr. Valence concluded that the mutation was less dangerous and unlikely to compromise the effectiveness of vaccines. He stated that there were theoretical reasons that the new version could alter the immune response, although there was no evidence yet that was the case.
“The working assumption is that the vaccine response to this virus should be adequate, but we need to be cautious about this,” he said.
Dr. of New York Genome Center According to Sanjana, “single mutations generally will not alter the vaccine’s performance.”
British authorities said they had no evidence that the mutation was present abroad, although scientists say a similar mutation appeared independently in South Africa.
—Brian Abbott and Jason Douglas contributed to this article.
Write Stephen Fidler at [email protected]
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