New strand helping outbreaks spread faster around world

Professor Nick Loman, from the University of Birmingham, who is part of the Covid-19 Genomics Consortium, said the new strand, known as D614G, has become the most dominant around the world.

“We are tracking the genomes of these cases and we’re tracking thousands of mutations, but there’s one particular mutation that’s been noteworthy for a while, which is called D614G,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

A new mutation in the coronavirus is helping outbreaks spread faster around the world, a biological scientist has said.

“It exists in the spike protein which is a very important way the coronavirus can enter human cells and we have been noticing in the UK and worldwide that this mutation has been increasing in frequency.

“This mutation was predicted first by computer modelling to have some impact on the structure of that protein and the ability of the virus to bind and enter cells and then quite recently was shown in laboratory experiments to increase the infectivity of cells.”

Professor Loman said the real test is whether the strain with increased infectivity affects the human population.

He said: ”It does seem to have an impact, particularly on transmissibility.

“It’s a small impact we think, we are not completely confident about that, but we found that, by testing what happened in the UK, the viruses that contain the G-type of mutation seemed to form clusters of cases faster which ended up being bigger than the viruses with the D mutation.”

“We didn’t see any significant association with survival or the lengths of hospital stays with this mutation, so we don’t think this mutation is important in changing virulence. The effect seems to be on transmissibility.

“Mutations that increase transmissibility of a virus are the ones that are selected for, are the ones that we’ll see in the population increasingly.”

Prof Loman said he did not think the new mutation would affect the production of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“I think the jury’s out on that. I expect it will not,” he said. ”Any vaccine trial will include patients that will encounter this mutation because this is actually the most dominant mutation, it’s about 75 per cent of cases. I don’t think this will have an impact on the vaccine.”

He added: “This increase in this mutation is a worldwide phenomenon, the original virus out of Wuhan had the D-type, but the G-type has become much more dominant across the world, including the UK.

“So anywhere we do a vaccine trial we should get a useful outcome.”

Prof Loman said any possible vaccine would itself have to be altered year-on-year to cope with new strains of the virus.

He said there could be many such mutations, and cautioned that any vaccine or treatment targeting the virus would “effectively select for mutations that will help the virus evade a vaccine or resist a treatment”.

He added: “And that’s exactly what we’re going to be looking hard at over the coming months and years.”

Asked whether the virus is something the world will live with for years, Prof Loman said: “There are so many cases everywhere that to bring those cases down to nothing and eradicate the virus is looking like a seemingly impossible task.

“But the vaccine will hopefully help us control cases much better.”

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