Two variants of COVID-19 merge

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US scientists believe they have identified a strain of COVID-19 formed by combining the genomes of the British and California variants, raising questions about the ability of the virus to continue to mutate.

According to what the British science magazine “New Scientist” reported on Wednesday, this case of recombinant virus was discovered by American biologist Bette Korber of the national laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She found this “super variant” while searching a database of viral genomes and reported it to the New York Academy of Sciences on February 2.

To date, various mutations of the virus, including the British, South African, Californian and Brazilian variants, have been identified, but no case of recombination between two of these mutations has yet been observed.

Ms. Korber said, according to the “New Scientist”, have detected a single case of recombination, so that she does not know if the “super-variant” is circulating in the population.

It is difficult to establish the dangerousness of the “super-variant”, underlined the magazine. Mutations can sometimes bring benefits to the virus, as in the case of the British variant which spreads even more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, but they can also have little or no effect.

Either way, the emergence of variants makes it increasingly likely that people will end up infected with two strains of the virus at once and these will recombine to create new mutations.

“We may get to the point where it happens on a regular basis. […] All coronaviruses recombine. It is not a question of “if”, but of “when”, specified to the magazine Sergey Pond, doctor and professor of biology at Temple University in Philadelphia.

The appearance of mutations raises concerns that some vaccines may become ineffective. However, those developed by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna – the only two approved to date in Canada – are based on messenger RNA technology and can be quickly reconfigured to accommodate mutations if needed, the pharmaceutical companies have assured. .

To date, some 600 cases of variants have been officially detected in Canada, including nearly 350 in Ontario and more than 200 in Alberta, against barely 16 in Quebec, which is dragging its feet in trying to detect them, according to several experts. .

The vast majority of cases in Canada are associated with the British variant and a few dozen with the South African variant. Only one case of the Brazilian variant has been reported and none of the California variant.