Recently in the news that a mutated variant of the novel coronavirus has been associated with infections in England. What does this mean? Whether the mutation could affect people’s response to vaccines? Is this strain in India? Know more about it here.
It has been found that a mutated variant of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 has been associated with recent infections in England. The virus has undergone various mutations since it first infected humans and as per scientist, it is neither unexpected nor a cause for panic.
About the New Mutant Coronavirus
In England, the mutant virus has been identified as N501Y and is likely to be a mutation in the spike protein. Or we can say that it is the coronavirus spike protein that binds to a human protein to initiate the process of infection. Here the changes could possibly affect how the virus behaves like the ability of the virus to infect, or cause severe disease or may escape the immune response made by vaccines. Anything can be there and is a major concern.
According to reports quoting UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the virus-carrying this mutation has caused around 1,100 new infections in 60 local authority areas. The mutation has been tracked by the Consortium for COVID-19 genomics UK (COG-UK) and is likely to provide a critique soon.
As explained above as per Professor Ravi it is likely to be a mutation in the spike protein. He further said that there has been a single nucleotide change in one portion of the spike protein, so there would be no bearing on the disease biology or even diagnostic.
Here a question arises that what is a mutation? Do you know about it?
A mutation is a change in the genetic sequence of the virus. As in the case of SARS-CoV-2, which is an RNA virus, here mutation is a change in the sequence in which its molecules are arranged. In the RNA virus mutation occurs which often happens when the virus makes a mistake while it is making copies of itself.
Prof V. Ravi, retired Head of the Department of Neurovirology at NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences), Bengaluru explained that only if the mutation results in a significant change in the protein structure can the course of disease be altered.
What will be the effect on infection and vaccination?
As we know that various COVID-19 vaccines have been designed to develop antibodies to target the spike protein. Vaccine target several regions on the spike and mutation is change in a single point. So we can say that is there is one mutation then it does not mean that vaccine would not work. Also, all strains of SARS-CoV-2 are genetically similar to one another and scientists are not expecting that these mutations will have a significant impact on the ability to cause more severe disease that what has been observed so far.
Various mutation means nothing at all, or at least are more successful for reasons not known. We can understand in this way that a different strain may be more transmissible, but cause less disease.
Therefore, researchers need to monitor the mutations as there is no evidence that the new strain in the UK is more transmissible or more severe/resistant to treatment or vaccination.
Is a mutation in the spike protein important or significant?
According to the Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, there would be more concern about a mutation in the spike region than other regions of the coronavirus genome. To initiate the process of infection, it is the coronavirus spike protein that binds to a human protein. He further stated that changes here could possibly affect how the virus behaves in terms of its ability to infect, or cause severe disease, or escape the immune response made by vaccines — but these are theoretical concerns at the moment.
Is this type of Mutant Variant in India?
As per researchers, they have not seen this type of variant in India. As per Dr Rakesh Mishra, Director, CISR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, “We have not seen this variant in India.” “But we are watching out for mutations as they are constantly happening. For the moment, it is not something to be worried about and is restricted to a few countries.”
Dr. Mishra told that there are no indications so far that the UK mutation has more affinity to the ACE-2 receptor (the human protein with which the virus spike protein binds). Also, it is not proven that there are clinical and immunological consequences.
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So, what about the earlier Mutation?
D614G Mutation aided the virus in attaching more efficiently with the ACE2 receptor in the human host and so it makes more entry in the human body more successful than its predecessors.
D614G showed increased infection but it also displayed greater ability at attaching itself to the cell walls inside an individual’s nose and throat, increasing the viral load. Over 4,000 mutations have been detected in the spike region through the pandemic. Dr Gang stressed the need to understand why the increase and what it means.
Is there need to worry about these changes or mutations?
It is a fact that mutation will keep happening and the new virus variant will also survive or maybe disappear depends upon the immune response and their ability to multiply and transmit as per the Professor Arindam Maitra of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics.
He also explained that the strains of all SARS-CoV-2 are genetically similar to one another and scientists are not expecting these mutations to have a significant impact on their ability to cause more severe disease than what has been observed so far.
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