Deltacron: Cyprus confirms discovery of COVID variant
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Mutations outside of the spike protein could have an important impact on the Omicron variant’s ability to rapidly spread, according to new research.
The over 30 mutations to the spike protein allow it to evade the immune system and force entry to cells.
A cluster of mutations found in the Alpha variant have an analogous cluster in the Omicron variant.
These mutations ramp up product of a protein that blocks infected cells from signalling the immune system.
There are multiple potential ways a virus can mutate to infect a greater number of people.
It can become better at infecting people, evading destruction by the immune system, surviving on surfaces or replicating faster.
Senior author Nevan Krogan, PhD, said: “The mutations in spike allow the virus to get into cells more effectively.
“But what about after the virus gets into cells?
“There may be other mutations that allow it to replicate more.”
Senior author Greg Towers, PhD, conducted experiments on the Alpha variant refuting the theory of faster replication.
The research team did identify a group of three proteins that were over-produced by the variant.
One of them latches onto a protein that would activate the immune responses and blocks it.
The findings suggest a potential treatment by targeting these proteins and re-enabling the immune system.
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Both the Delta and Omicron, cousins of the Alpha variant, have mutations in two of the three regions the team studied.
This means they may have similar effects of being able to suppress the immune system.
The appearance of the same trait in multiple variants that evolved separately is an important finding.
Lead author Mehdi Bouhaddou, PhD, said: “Studying the variants of concern gives us ideas about how SARS-CoV-2 evolves.
“Now we have a sense of the proteins that are mutating most frequently, and the biological consequences of those mutations.”
The Alpha variant was first discovered in the UK at the end of 2020.
It rapidly spread around the globe, supporting the belief that it was significantly more transmissible.
Initial evidence on the Delta variant reported by the CDC suggested it was twice as contagious as previous variants.
This variant was also linked by two different studies to more severe symptoms in unvaccinated people, the group at highest risk.
The research was published in the journal Nature.
The best methods of preventing spread remain unchanged by this research.
The NHS offers vaccinations to everyone aged 12 and over.
Limiting in person meetings and ensuring proper ventilation in workspaces reduces the chances the virus has to spread.
Wearing a face covering, washing hands regularly and social distancing are all proven to reduce spread.
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