Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine announced this week that they discovered a new variant of COVID-19 which is potentially more infectious than other variants.
The scientists said that the variant is identical to the U.K. variant, but likely arose independently in the U.S. They also found another U.S. strain with “there other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2,” researchers said.
SARS-CoV2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.
The first strain was found in one patient from Ohio, and researchers said they do not yet know the prevalence of the strain in the state. The second mutation, by contrast, has become the dominant strain in Columbus during a three-week period in late December 2020 and January.
“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology, in a statement. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”
A variant of the coronavirus was first detected in the U.K. in September and has been detected in several U.S. states since.
Researchers said that the mutation in the first strain affect the spikes on the surface of the virus, which allow the virus to attach to and enter human cells. Mutations to the spikes are likely to make the virus more contagious.
“The big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective,” Peter Mohler, a co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and vice dean for research at the College of Medicine, said in a statement. “At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.”
The findings are currently under review for publication in BioRxiv, an open access preprint depository for biological studies.
Ohio currently has more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nearly 9,000 confirmed deaths, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Ohio Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair.