A study on the COVID-19 coronavirus, published in the Cell journal, reveals that the virus has developed a new form - a more infectious and apparently fitter mutation that has received the name G614. The change was seen by a scientist in the 'Spike' protein, an amino acid used by the virus to penetrate cells.
Erica Ollmann Saphire of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, who participated in the research, told CNN that the new mutation is "the dominant form infecting people", having almost completely replaced its old form in Europe and then moved from there to the United States. Interestingly, the G614 has not yet made it to such diverse places as the Santa Clara, California, and Iceland.
"We do know that the new virus is fitter. It doesn't look at first glance as if it is worse," Saphire said.
The assertions came after experiments were conducted with the involvement of humans, animals and cells, showing a higher contagiousness of the new form. David Montefiore of Duke University, having conducted tests in a lab environment, found that the new C form was three to nine times more infectious than the D. However, the novel version did not seem to affect the severity of COVID-19.
"Our global tracking data show that the G614 variant in Spike has spread faster than D614", wrote biologist Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory and her colleagues in a report. "We interpret this to mean that the virus is likely to be more infectious," it was added. "Interestingly, we did not find evidence of G614 impact on disease severity."
Scientists involved in the study expressed hope that, as the new virus form spreads, it will be less pathogenic. During the study, it was revealed that the C form could be neutralized with a convalescent serum - a blood product that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have. The antibodies seem to work against the new mutation more effectively than against of the older version.
The scientists in the study noted that the research has resulted in "potential consequences" for vaccines, although more work is needed to refine outcomes and see how they can be used.
According to the World Health Organization's director general, there are currently 141 anti-coronavirus vaccines in development across the world. The global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is approaching 11 million, as the coronavirus-related death toll topped 520,000, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.