With most viruses, it takes at least a year before a new variant emerges. But the coronavirus is an exception to the rule.
The Corona crisis has been going on for about two years now. At that time, several variants of SARS-CoV-2 had already been reviewed. Meanwhile, the counter stands at sixteen different species, some of which are worrisome. What scientists haven’t fully understood is why so many different variables appear in a relatively short period of time. A new study published in Molecular biology and evolutionmore clarity.
Viruses usually mutate at a fairly constant rate. “With most viruses, it takes at least a year for a new variant to emerge,” said researcher Sebastian Duchenne. “However, what we saw in SARS-CoV-2 variants – and especially the variants of concern – is that they underwent much more mutations than we would expect under the normal evolutionary rate of similar coronaviruses. For example, the delta variant evolved from its ancestral form within six weeks.”
To understand why this happens, the researchers analyzed hundreds of genome sequences from SARS-CoV-2 strains. In this way, they hoped to understand the mechanisms that led to the emergence of the corona’s most worrisome variants – especially the first four: alpha, beta, gamma and delta.
Investigation leads to a surprising discovery. Because the coronavirus seems to be evolving at lightning speed. The virus undergoes temporary mutations and then returns to its “normal” pace. “Initially, the rate of evolution of SARS-CoV-2 was generally thought to be much higher,” Duchenne says. But it now appears that the virus is able to modify its rate of evolution and temporarily increase its rate of evolution. It’s like someone stepping on the gas pedal in a car.”
“It’s like someone stepping on the gas pedal in a car.”
This means that the rapid emergence of new Corona variants can be explained by the exceptional ability of the virus to speed up its development at times. This can be caused by a number of factors, including long-term infection in individuals, strong natural selection, or the high number of infections among the unvaccinated, allowing the virus to spread and evolve rapidly.
According to the researchers, the study shows how important it is to discover new variants early. “Because this virus is evolving so rapidly, early detection is very important,” Duchenne stresses. “This allows us to monitor the virus closely and respond immediately.”
In addition, Duchene stresses the importance of vaccination. It concludes, “Anything we can do to make sure fewer people are carrying the coronavirus will also reduce the chances of new variants emerging.”
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