Researchers have found seven variants of the coronavirus in the United States, with a mutation of the same genetic letter, according to a new study. They have been discovered in different states across the country and it's not yet clear whether the strains are more contagious, but researchers are concerned. Jeremy Kamil, virologist at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, said:
There is clearly something going on with this mutation.
Jeremy Kamil, a co-author of the new study, said he was sequencing coronavirus samples when he noticed the new variants, which have mutations on the same amino acid. Scientists are worried that these mutations could make it easier for the virus to enter human cells.
Additional experiments needed to evaluate these new variants
Jeremy Kamil said the viruses are all from the same genetic lineage, and after entering the genome into an online database used by other scientists, he learned that there were scientists in New Mexico who had also found the same variant with the same mutation.
The lineage Jeremy Kamil detected dates back to December 1, and samples from New Mexico are from October, but it is not known when these variants actually emerged. Samples from across the country have been found with this variant, but with limited genome sequencing, it is difficult to understand the prevalence of these mutated viruses.
The study has not yet been peer reviewed. Experts said that more experiments are needed to assess whether these mutations have an impact on transmission or morbidity. Emma Hodcroft, an epidemiologist at the University of Bern and co-author of the new study, said:
I would be very hesitant as to give a place of origin for any of these lineages at this time.
Variants may be even more dangerous
Other more contagious variants have been discovered elsewhere. A recent analysis revealed that a variant first discovered in the UK, known as B.1.1.7, is 35-45% more transmissible than other strains spreading in the US, while a new assessment by British government scientists has found that the same variant could be 30 to 70% more deadly than the original coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have predicted that it will be the most common variant of the coronavirus by March.