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The looming threat of the pandemic

The looming threat of the pandemic
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The looming threat of the pandemic

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Is the world staring at a greater Covid-19 challenge due to the mutations? Yes, if one looks at the heavily mutated variant of the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus which is now causing Covid-19

Is the world staring at a greater Covid-19 challenge due to the mutations? Yes, if one looks at the heavily mutated variant of the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus which is now causing Covid-19. Two mutant strains of the coronavirus have come together to form this new variant now. As first reported by New Scientist, the B.1.429 variant of SARS-CoV-2 that originated in California has somehow had a "recombination" event with the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the United Kingdom.

If confirmed by other scientists, this would mark the first recorded time that the novel coronavirus has developed a recombinant strain during the pandemic, although it is not unusual for coronaviruses in general to recombine. So far, a single genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus deposited in a database of thousands from the US. The sequence has tell-tale signs of being a hybrid virus created by a recombination event between two different lineages of SARS-CoV-2. It was discovered during an investigation of a recent surge of Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles apparently caused by a new SARS-CoV-2 variant called B.1.429.

The recombination event was reported on February 2 at a virtual scientific conference organised by the New York Academy of Sciences, in a presentation about the outbreak in Los Angeles. The hybrid is a mash-up of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in Kent, UK, late last year, and the lesser-known B.1.429, which appears to have originated in southern California. Both are known to be circulating in the Los Angeles area. Both of these variants carry mutations on their spike proteins that appear to confer an advantage. The epidemiologists are worried about the development but they are not clear how much threat this poses.

With the emergence of more variants of the novel coronavirus, recombination may pose a bigger threat since it can occur when someone is exposed to two different strains at once. The genetic material of the two strains is "spliced together," combining multiple mutations at once. A flurry of new studies suggests that recombination may allow the virus to shapeshift in dangerous ways. There's no question that recombination is happening.

And in fact, it's probably a bit underappreciated and could be at play even in the emergence of some of the new variants of concern. There is no evidence that the recombinant is being transmitted from person to person as of now. The new recombinant could appear in the population and then increase in frequency, suggesting it is out-competing existing viruses.

This particular recombinant may go everywhere or nowhere, but it may herald a new phase of the pandemic with recombinants emerging all over the place. The recent emergence of multiple variants of the new coronavirus may have created the raw material for recombination because people can be infected with two different variants at once.

We may be getting to the point when this is happening at appreciable rates. There is still no evidence of widespread recombination, but that is irrelevant now as it is only a question of when. The crisis for humanity is far from over. It requires a lot of patience and healthy practices to overcome the threat from the new variant. Let wisdom prevail.

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