Health-care workers from University of South Florida Health administer coronavirus testing June 25 at a community center in Tampa. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images) “The epidemiological study and our data together really explain why the [G variant’s] spread in Europe and the U.S. was really fast,” said Hyeryun Choe, a virologist at Scripps Research and a lead author of an unpublished study on the G variant’s enhanced infectiousness in laboratory cell cultures. “This is not just accidental.”
But there may be other explanations for the G variant’s dominance: biases in where genetic data are being collected, quirks of timing that gave the mutated virus an early foothold in susceptible populations.
“The bottom line is, we haven’t seen anything definitive yet,” said Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The scramble to unravel this mutation mystery embodies the challenges of science during the coronavirus pandemic. With millions of people infected and thousands dying every day around the world, researchers must strike a high-stakes balance between getting information out quickly and making sure that it’s right.
SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease covid-19, can be thought of as an extremely destructive burglar. Unable to live or reproduce on its own, it breaks into human cells and co-opts their biological machinery to make thousands of copies of itself. That leaves a trail of damaged tissue and triggers an immune system response that for some people can be disastrous.
This replication process is messy. Even though it has a “proofreading” mechanism for copying its genome, the coronavirus frequently makes mistakes, or mutations. The vast majority of mutations have no effect on the behavior of […]