While the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil has made headlines and is a concern, scientists say in a new study that they have found seven variants that originated in the US.
What you need to know
- Scientists say in a new study that they have found seven variants that originated in the US
- Researchers in Louisiana and New Mexico independently detected the same variant involving amino acid mutations to 677 viruses
- The scientists then began searching a database for 677 other mutations and found six similar variants that evolved independently
- It is not yet known whether this variant is the more contagious strain of the new coronavirus or whether a vaccine currently approved offers protection against it.
Studies, which have not been peer reviewed, was posted Sunday on medRxiv, a website for unpublished preprint medical research.
After finding one variant when ordering the COVID-19 test, Dr. Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at the Louisiana State University Center for Health Sciences, Shreveport, posted his genome to an online database used by scientists around the world. The next day, he received an email from Daryl Domman at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Health Sciences, saying that he and his colleagues had recently detected the same variant involving amino acid mutations to 677 viruses. The New York Times reported.
Scientists then began searching a database for 677 other mutations and found six such variants that evolved independently, the earliest examples since July.
It is not yet known whether this variant is the more contagious strain of the new coronavirus or whether the currently approved vaccine offers protection against it.
“Given the widespread detection of lineages in several states and the marked increase in detection frequency,” these variants “deserve further study for potential differences in transmission,” said the study.
The study authors named each variant after birds, such as Robin 1, Robin 2, Pelican and Mockingbird. Co-author of the study Dr. Emma Hodcroft, with the University of Bern in Switzerland, said on Twitter a naming system is needed to avoid confusion, because variants have the same mutation, and because they want to avoid using geographic locations.
The researchers note that parallel evolution of the same traits in variants could suggest that the virus is adapting in a way that is more favorable for its spread or transmission. They said monitoring mutations could provide them with a better understanding of why viruses evolved in certain ways.
It is difficult to know how prevalent the newly detected variant is because the United States sequenced the genomes from less than 1% of the COVID-19 test sample.
Scientists say more variants are likely to be found in the US and in other countries where the virus is spreading rapidly.