Newswise – COLUMBUS, Ohio – Scientists at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and University of Medicine discovered a new variant of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The new variant carries a mutation that is identical to the British strain, but likely to have occurred in a virus strain already present in the USA. The researchers are also reporting the development of another U.S. strain that has acquired three other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.
These results will be reviewed for publication in BioRxiv as a form.
Ohio State Wexner Medical Center has been sequencing the genome of SARS-Cov-2 virus in patients with COVID-19 since March 2020 to monitor the development of the virus. The new variant was discovered in a patient from Ohio, so the researchers do not yet know the prevalence of the strain in the population.
In contrast, the developing strain with the three new mutations became the dominant virus in Columbus over a three-week period in late December 2020 and January.
“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as previous cases we examined, but these three mutations represent a significant development,” said the study director DR. Dan Jones, Vice Chairman of the Department of Molecular Pathology. “We know that shift didn’t come from the UK or South African branches of the virus.”
As with the British strain, mutations detected in both viruses affect the spikes that examine the surface of SARS-Cov-2. The spikes allow the virus to attach to and enter human cells. As with the British strain, the mutations in the Columbus strain will likely make the virus more contagious and make it easier for the virus to get from person to person.
“The big question is whether these mutations make vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective,” he said Peter Mohler, Co-author of the study and chief scientist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and vice dean for research at the College of Medicine. “At this point in time, we have no data to suggest that these mutations will affect the effectiveness of the vaccines currently in use.”
“It is important that we do not overreact to this new variant until we receive additional data,” said Mohler. “We need to understand the effects of mutations on the transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population and the effects on human health. In addition, it is important that we continue to monitor the development of the virus so that we can understand the impact of the mutated forms on diagnostic and therapeutic design. It is important that we make decisions based on the best of science. “
The scientists said the discovery of the Columbus variant COH.20G / 501Y suggests that the same mutation could appear independently in several parts of the world in recent months.
“Viruses mutate naturally and evolve over time, but the changes in the past two months have been more pronounced than in the first few months of the pandemic,” Jones said. His team has performed Ohio State genetic sequencing on SARS-CoV2 samples from both environmental and patient conditions and will continue to look for changes if vaccination occurs.