Covid mutations do not help the virus spread more rapidly, says study

A man wearing a face mask is waiting for a train at the central train station during the COVID-19 pandemic in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, on 3 November 2020.

Wei Xuechao | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

LONDON – A global study of more than 12,000 coronavirus mutations has found that none of them seem to have made the virus that causes Covid-19 spread more rapidly.

Researchers from University College London have estimated covide mutations in over 46,000 samples taken from humans in 99 different countries and concluded that all mutations were neutral when it came to speeding up the spread of virus.

The peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday in the Nature Communication Journal, identified a total of 12,706 mutations. Of these, 398 strains of the coronavirus were found repeatedly and independently.

The researchers decided to release 185 mutations, which occurred at least three times independently during the pandemic.

“Researchers from the study said that recurrent mutations, which are currently circulating, are evolving neutrally neutral and mainly induced by the human immune system through RNA editing.

“At this stage, we find no evidence for SARS-COV-2 significantly more transmissible lines because of recurrent mutations,” they added.

‘Miss the early window’

The results of the study come as drugmakers and research centers scramble to provide a safe and effective vaccine to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

British pharmaceutical giant Astrazeneca said Monday that an interim analysis had shown that the coronavirus vaccine had an average efficacy of 70%. The news follows strong results from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna regarding the effectiveness of each of their vaccination candidates.

COVID-19 Coronavirus molecule, March 24, 2020.

CDC | API | Gamma-Rapho by Getty Images

Viruses naturally mutate and scientists have previously said that they have observed minor mutations in the coronavirus that have not improved its ability to spread or cause disease in any significant way.

Earlier this year, a much-discussed mutant variant of the coronavirus known as D614G was thought to enhance viral transmission. This prompted coronavirus advisor from White House dr. Anthony Faucy to warn that the newly-discovered variant could help the pathogen spread more easily.

“Mutations that are fairly common all seem neutral to the virus that carries them. This includes D614G, which according to our analysis is more of a staveway that got a lucky ride on a successful pedigree, rather than a driver of transmission,” said Professor Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute and one of the authors of the study.

“This raises the question why # SARSCoV2 is so well adapted for transmission in humans. A plausible answer is that we missed the early window when it adapted to humans,” Balloux said via Twitter on Wednesday.

To date, more than 60.5 million people have contracted the coronavirus with 1.4 million related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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