New coronavirus mutation infecting human cells 'more easily': Research
Researchers in Florida, the US, say they believe they have shown that the new coronavirus has mutated in a way that makes it more easily infect human cells.
Amid fears of a second wave of the novel coronavirus across the world, researchers in the US have said experiments show that COVID-19 has mutated in a way that makes it infect human cells more easily. So far, more than 7.6 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide, as well as at least 425,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida said the mutation affects the spike protein – a structure on the outside of the virus that it uses to get into cells. If the findings are confirmed, it would the first time someone has demonstrated the virus has changed in a significant way.
"Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” said Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, who helped lead the study. The virologist and her colleagues ran a series of experiments in lab dishes that show a mutation called D614G gives the virus many more spikes, which in turn make it easier for it to get into cells.
The mutation allows the virus not only to attach to cells more easily, but to enter them more easily. When viruses infect, they hijack their victim's cells and turn them into viral factories, pumping out copy after copy of viruses.
The experts published their findings on a preprint server called BioRxiv – a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer-reviewed. They said more research is needed to show whether this changes how the virus infects people, and whether the change has affected the course of the pandemic.
But at least one researcher not involved in the study says it likely has, and the changes may explain why the virus has caused so many infections in the United States and Latin America, CNN reported.
This comes as earlier this week, the World Health Organization said coronavirus mutations seen so far had not made it more easily transmissible, nor had they made it more likely to cause serious illness.
US top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci had said recently that coronavirus is "my worst nightmare," in some ways more than Ebola or HIV.
"Ebola was scary, but Ebola would never be easily transmitted," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. Ebola outbreaks are also always highly local.
"HIV, as important as it is, was drawn out and over an extended period of time," added Fauci. Many never felt threatened by the disease because it was always a threat "depending upon who you are, where you are, where you live."
The world has seen outbreaks that have at least some of those characteristics, he said, but COVID-19 had all of those characteristics combined.
"Now we have something that turned out to be my worst nightmare," Fauci said. "In the period of four months, it has devastated the world." It was "unexpected how rapidly," it would spread, he said.
It just took over the planet," Fauci added: "And it isn't over yet."
Coronavirus vaccines in development around the world are in various stages of testing. Fauci said he's confident one of the vaccine candidates will be proven safe and effective by the first quarter of 2021.