You8217;ve probably heard that SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, is mutating. But what exactly does this mutation mean for us?
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Mutations are essentially changes to an organism’s genetic material that can happen at any phase of life. They can happen for a whole host of reasons like if DNA or RNA does a sloppy job at copying itself during cell division, or if an organism is exposed to damaging environmental factors, such as smog or UV light.
Mutations can affect any aspect of an organisms’ life: from its appearance to its behavior or they can have absolutely no effect at all. And while mutation rates are naturally higher in viruses than, say, humans — mutations are in fact, absolutely essential to the evolution of all life forms.
In a paper published in early 2020, a team from the Los Alamos National Laboratory suggested that this mutation was causing SARS-CoV-2 to be more contagious by allowing the virus to enter cells more efficiently. When it was first reported in March, this mutation was only found in a few of the genetic sequences that were available to scientists at the time, and was mostly present in Europe. But by April, it was present in over half of the available sequences and had expanded globally. Today, this mutation is so widespread that it isn’t just a deviation from the pandemic — it is the pandemic.
Why this coronavirus mutation is not cause for alarm
8220;There’s no doubt that viruses mutate; that’s why we need a new version of the flu vaccine every year. But there is considerable doubt among scientists about how significant this particular mutation is for the COVID-19 pandemic.8221;
The pandemic virus is slowly mutating. But is it getting more dangerous?
8220;More than 6 months into the pandemic, the virus’ potential to evolve in a nastier direction—or, if we’re lucky, become more benign—is unclear. In part that’s because it changes more slowly than most other viruses, giving virologists fewer mutations to study.8221;
There is one, and only one strain of SARS-CoV-2
8220;There is only one strain of SARS-CoV-2. The first virus isolate, taken from a Wuhan patient in December 2019, is the same strain as the most recent isolate taken anywhere else in the world in May 2020. So far no one has shown that any of these virus isolates differ in any fundamental property.8221;
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