Friday, July 19, 2024

Coronavirus new variant – genomics researcher answers key questions

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A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is thought to be driving increased transmission of the disease in parts of the UK. The government has placed some regions including London under new, stricter coronavirus restrictions, known as Tier 4. People in Tier 4 areas will not be able to gather with anyone outside their household for Christmas, while those in the rest of the country can only gather on Christmas Day itself.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, and his chief scientific advisors said that the new variant could increase transmission of COVID-19 by as much as 70% and increase the R or reproduction number by 0.4%.

What’s the significance of this new discovery? The Conversation asked Lucy van Dorp, a microbial genomics researcher and an expert in the evolution of pathogens, some key questions about what we know at this point in time.

What do we know about this new variant?

The new UK variant, known as VUI-202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7, was first identified in the county of Kent on September 20. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, first announced the existence of the variant on December 14; it was subsequently confirmed by Public Health England and the UK’s COVID-19 sequencing consortium.

The variant carries 14 defining mutations including seven in the spike protein, the protein that mediates entry of the virus into human cells. This is a relatively large number of changes compared to the many variants we have in circulation globally.

To date, genetic profiles – or genomes – of this variant have been largely sequenced and shared from the UK but include some in Denmark and two cases in Australia. There have also been reports of a case in theĀ Netherlands. These countries all have very large genome sequencing efforts and it is very possible that these observations do not reflect the true distribution of this variant of the virus, which could exist undetected elsewhere. We will know more as more genomes are generated and shared. Read more…

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