At least four new variants of coronavirus are keeping scientists awake at night.
One, previously identified in south-east England, now appears in at least 50 countries and appears to spread more efficiently than older variants of the virus. Its presence has left political leaders horrified, who have closed borders and imposed travel restrictions in efforts to stop its spread.
Others identified in South Africa and Brazil have not traveled far, but show a constellation of mutations that have attracted the attention of geneticists.
B.1.1.7: Top of the list for researchers in the United States is the first seen version B.1.1.7 in Britain. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned last week that it could increase the likelihood of an outbreak.
While there is nothing like the phrase “mutant new viruses” to attract attention, scientists say they are convinced of what they’ve got so far: the human immune system can handle variants that have sprung up so far.
B.1.351: A variant called B.1.351 or 501Y.V2 has a different pattern of mutation for the first time in South Africa, which causes more physiological changes in the structure of the spike protein than B1.1.7. An important mutation, called E484K, appears to affect the receptor binding domain – the part of the spike protein being the most important for linking cells.
P.1 and P.2: Two forms of anxiety have first emerged in Brazil. One, called P.1, has been found in 42% of samples in a survey conducted in the Brazilian city of Manaus, and Japanese authorities found the variant among four travelers to Brazil. P.2, which was also seen in Brazil for the first time, was horrified when 11 people died in Britain last week.
L425R: Finally, a new version called the L425R has been spotted in California, and while it is commonly being found, it is not yet clear whether it is more communicated.
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