Researchers said on Sunday that they had identified a similar set of disturbing mutations in samples of the coronavirus circulating in the United States. They don’t just get their attention; they have found better abbreviations to refer to them. They named it after the bird.
The mutations all affect the same range of spike proteins – the button-like extensions on the outside of the virus that it uses to anchor to infected cells. write the researchers in preprinted reports. These have not been peer reviewed, but researchers are rushing to find such findings online to share them quickly with other experts.
The genetic range that mutates, or changes, is called 677. The changes are so similar that researchers think evolution supports this particular variant. And that’s in a troubling place, said Vaughn Cooper, director of the Center for Evolutionary Biology and Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, which worked on the study.
“The stretch of the Spike is important because of its proximity to a key region for virulence,” Cooper told CNN by email.
“We actually consider these mutations to be relatively rare (compared to other types of mutations), but they are disproportionately selected when they occur later,” he added.
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The team has reviewed the genome sequences stored in GISAID, a global database that researchers use to share genetic information about the virus. This is where scientists first noticed the emergence of disturbing new variants such as B.1.1.7, first seen in Great Britain, and B.1.351, first seen in South Africa.
“By the end of January 2021, our two independent SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance programs, based at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, each saw an increasing number of … a virus carrying the S: Q677P mutation, and this variant has increased in the frequency of samples collected in late 2020 to mid-January, “write the researchers.
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The abbreviation – Q677P – refers to a specific change in the amino acids that make up that part of the spike protein.
They had identified seven similar mutations in 677 – each apparently occurring independently. They named it after the bird to make it easier to identify.
One, called Robin 1, has appeared in more than 30 US states, dominating the Midwest, they said. The second “first emerged from the October 6, 2020 sample from Alabama and was named ‘Robin 2’ because of its resemblance to the parent sub-line Robin 1,” they wrote. This is especially evident in the Southeast. The so-called Pelican was first seen in samples from Oregon, and has since appeared in 12 other states as well as Australia, Denmark, Switzerland and India.
The Pelican was the first variant that caught the attention of researchers, in part because it was found in nearly 28% of samples from Louisiana and 11% of samples from New Mexico.
“The remaining Q677H sub-lineages each contain about 100 or fewer sequences, and are named: Yellowhammer, detected mostly in the southeastern US; Bluebird, mostly in the northeastern United States; Quail, especially in the Southwest and Northeast. and Mockingbird, especially in the states of south-central and East coast, “wrote the research team.
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The United States has barely studied the genome sequences of the circulating coronavirus, so if these variants appear so frequently in the database, they are likely very common, the researchers said. The appearance of so many similar mutations at the same time was “extraordinary,” they said.
“This variant was not detected until mid-August 2020, but as of February 3, 2021, it already includes more than 2,327 of the 102,462 genomes stored in the US GISAID,” they wrote. It deserves attention, they say.