Study says mutations of SARS-CoV-2 virus might not be as harmful as the original strain
Scientists have so far reported 6,822 mutations of SARS-CoV-2 virus globally, out of which 300 have shown to repeat themselves in different patients.
COVID-19 hit the world hard in December 2019 and continues to spread at a rapid pace. SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 infection) is a single-stranded RNA virus. RNA (ribonucleic acid) is the genetic structure of the virus which can also be called the blueprint of the virus.
Until now, scientists have found numerous modifications in the genetic structure of the virus, which is scientifically called a mutation. The scientists at the University College London (UCL), UK, believe that most of these mutations are caused as the reaction of our immune system to these viruses and not because of the changes made by the virus itself. So far, scientists have reported 6,822 mutations of SARS-CoV-2 virus throughout the world, out of which 300 have shown to repeat themselves again and again in different patients.
SARS-CoV-2 mutation: Not as infectious as the actual virus
Dr Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute, and his team took samples of the virus from 15,000 COVID-19 patients in 75 different countries. The scientists found that 31 mutations were seen repeating themselves at least 10 times since the spread of infection picked up.
The scientists further found that most of these mutations were neutral. They were neither beneficial for the virus, nor the host.
They also found that there were plenty of mutations that were either advantageous or detrimental to the actual virus.
However, there was no proof which stated that any of the mutated viruses had an increased ability to spread the disease. Most of the mutated viruses were either neutral or harmful to the virus itself.
Reasons for mutation of SARS-CoV-2
Three processes can lead to mutation in RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-2:
1. An error during the multiplication of the virus in the body can lead to the mutation of the virus. However, this is quite unusual in the case of SARS-CoV-2 as the polymerase (the enzyme that forms the genetic structure) of the coronavirus proofreads its work after adding new genetic material.
2. During the recombination and reassortment of the virus, the genetic structure of the virus can vary, which means the genome structure can differ from each other in size or other aspects.
3. Mutation in the virus can also be seen due to the natural host immunity. This means that the immunity of the body tries to cope with the virus and tries to change its genetic structure.
Benefits of virus mutation
It has been reported that the majority of the mutations are neutral in nature and are less dangerous compared to the original virus. Sometimes, the mutated virus is beneficial for us, as it has the ability to destroy itself (deleterious ability).
The mutated viruses with deleterious ability prevent the virus from entering the host such as the human body and so, they do not sustain in the population for long. However, these neutral mutated viruses can reach a high number before getting diminished from the population. Mutated viruses that are slightly less deleterious can stay in the environment for much longer.
For more information, read our article on Viral mutation: FAQs.
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