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‘New strain of COVID-19 ‘out of control’’

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    29th Dec, 2020

Recently, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant has ben revealed to be the reason behind the rapid surge in Covid-19 cases in South and East England. It is being referred to as VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01, or the B.1.1.7 lineage.

Context

Recently, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant has ben revealed to be the reason behind the rapid surge in Covid-19 cases in South and East England. It is being referred to as VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01, or the B.1.1.7 lineage.

About

  • The new strain spotted in the UK has undergone mutation in the spike portion of the virus.
    • Spikes are proteins protruding from the virus. They actually bind the virus with the cells of the body and then gain an entry.
  • The strain is a derivative of the D614G mutation, which appeared independently in multiple locations.
  • However, only one lineage of that mutation spread rapidly across the globe, driven by human behaviour, and is now found in nearly all sequences.
  • Although there is still no absolute certainty about the mutant COVID-19 strain, three things have emerged from the spread:
    • It is rapidly replacing other versions of the coronavirus.
    • Parts of the virus have demonstrated mutations.
    • Some of these mutations have already been found to increase the ability to infect cells.

With these three factors, it is believed that the new mutant virus strain can spread easily.

How do mutations occur?

  • When the human body develops antibodies against a virus to prevent a disease outbreak, a virus must change its envelope, or outer surface, to avoid being recognized by the antibodies and immune cells.
  • Thus, to survive, a virus must change its outer proteins and develop new strains. 
  • To replicate, viruses use a host cell in an infected individual. When viruses infect such a host cell, they introduce genetic information from their nucleus into the infected cell.
  • In this way, the body's cells reproduce millions of copies of the virus.
  • However, small copying errors occur in each of these reproductions, and each of these errors also changes — or mutates — the genetic code of the virus.

How many times has the Sars-CoV-2 virus mutated?

  • The virus was first reported in Wuhan and since then, it is said to have mutated many times, most of which have gone unnoticed. 
  • So far, scientists have noted two distinct set of mutations in the virus that causes Covid-19:
    • the H69/V70 deletion
    • the D614G

How does the body react to mutations?

  • Normally, the human body is able to protect itself against viruses. It produces antibodies that defend against viral attacks and trigger immunity to the pathogen.
  • However, if the pathogen has already mutated and the antibodies produced are programmed to an older version of the pathogen, then these antibodies are much less effective.
  • That's why humans regularly get the common cold.
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