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COVID-19 : First case of coronavirus recombination: “A highly mutated hybrid version of the virus”

“The variants will dominate the conversation for months to come“. These are the words of Ravi Gupta, an expert in Clinical microbiology who warns about the New mutations occurring in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

British, South African and Brazilian are some of the new variants that have emerged around the world and that, due to their characteristics (greater infectivity and even lethality), could complicate the future of the pandemic and the vaccination campaign against COVID. Mutations, as stated on several occasions, are common in viruses.

However, a team of scientists in the United States have found what could be the first case of this coronavirus to recombine to form a more resistant and infectious virus. This is stated by the American computational biologist Bette Korber, according to New Scientist.

Mutation between two variants of the coronavirus

“All coronaviruses recombine, so it is acA matter of when, not yes“says Sergei Pond, professor of biology at Temple University (Pennsylvania). In this way, researchers have found a “fairly clear” evidence for possible recombination. Although not generalized at the moment, Pond cautions that “we may be reaching the point where this is happening at an appreciable rate

The sample, detected among thousands of sequences registered in the United States, was found in the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico. It would be, according to the experts, a “highly mutated hybrid version of the virus”, composed of the variants B.1.1.7 (United Kingdom) and the B.1.429 (California), which could be the cause of the outbreak of infections in Los Angeles.

What does the recombination of the virus entail?

Recombination of a virus means that multiple mutations come together at once, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be more dangerous. At the moment, there is little data and it is not possible to determine its implications in the future of the pandemic. “This type of event could allow the virus has been coupled to a more infectious virus with a more resistant virus“says Korber.

This fact, considered as the possible origin of SARS-CoV-2, may be of great evolutionary importance, as expressed François Balloux, University College London. For his part, his partner Lucy van Dorp reveals that he would not be “too surprised” if more cases of this type are detected.

The recombination process occurs in a common way in coronaviruses, since the enzyme that replicates your genome tends to slip off the RNA chain you are copying and then rejoining, as detailed in the New Scientist article. Thus, if a host cell contains the different coronavirus genomes, the enzyme is able to jump from one to another, combining its elements to create a hybrid virus.

Contagion of two different strains

The doctor Marcus Blagrove, Virologist at the University of Liverpool, confirms that one of the ways in which coronaviruses arise is through the recombination of various mutations. “Two viruses that infect the same cell and recombine into a ‘child’ virus, which would be a completely new strain. “

In the last hours, the United Kingdom detected in its territory a new variant that presents two of the mutations of greatest concern to the scientific community: E484K and N501Y. It is not, however, the only country in which it is found, but has been identified in nine others, including Spain.