The world was gradually trying to limp back to normalcy when disaster struck again. A new, much more contagious variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was detected, first in the UK and then multiple countries worldwide. This news sowed terror in everyone’s hearts and minds and caused stock markets to plummet across the world.
The highly contagious and unpredictable nature of the virus changed how we humans interact with the world, affecting work, education, business, economy, and almost every aspect of human society. For example, education went online as schools and colleges shut down and remain shut still. Students and tutors took to online telecommunications platforms, use Web utilities such as online math word problem & equation solvers and math problem solver, etc., and online academic writing services for their studies.
Before we look into the new mutated variant’s SARS-CoV-2 behavior and why scientists call it more contagious, we need to understand how a virus infects a host and how mutations make viruses so deadly & resilient.
A Glimpse Into Viral Genetics (H2)
Viruses possess the ability to change as necessary. Their genetic makeup allows them to undergo subtle changes via mutation and major transformations via recombination.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, too, possesses the ability to undergo numerous changes and form varying strains, each with its quirk. According to Nature.com, when the virus first spread across the globe in early 2020, many prominent virologists were wondering and quite apprehensive regarding how the virus would change as it spread amongst humans. Yes, viruses possess the capability to gain mutations every time they invade a host to evade the immune system and become a bit more resilient in the process.
- The novel coronavirus has undergone massive genetic changes from its initial form that infected bats to the variant that’s become a human pandemic. It is an RNA virus, that is, ribonucleic acids as its genetic material. These kinds of viruses undergo rapid and frequent mutations, often one mutation per genome.
- Virologists infer that the novel coronavirus can undergo multiple mutations as it spreads across the global population. These mutations allow the virus to evade the defenses of the different immune system.
- While research shows that the coronavirus is mutating much more slowly, one particular mutation stood out to the researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, USA. The spike proteins on the membrane of the viruses that allow it to penetrate host cells, the gene encoding of those proteins underwent a mutation due to a genome-copying fault.
The protein spike mutation SARS-CoV-2 was found to increase rapidly from the analyses of virus samples recovered from the infected. Virologists state that the strain of the virus with this specific mutation, the D614G, is becoming the predominant strain in Europe and slowly spreading to Canada and Australia.
The D614G strain is the dominant strain that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.
In December 2020, reports of a new mutant & more aggressive strain emerged from Great Britain, which sent ripples of worry amongst the various authorities.
The New Coronavirus Strain VOC 202012/01 (H2)
- Authorities from the United Kingdom stated the emergence & rapid spread of another new variant across the country, a new strain referred to as VOC 202012/01 (Variant Of Concern 2020 December, strain 1). This new strain was observed for a data cluster gathered from Kent in England, which was very different from the rest of the datasets elsewhere in the UK.
This particular variant is now a cause of worry amongst health officials and virologists due to possessing mutations capable of evading human immune system defenses.
- The mutations observed in this particular strain of the coronavirus in its receptor binding domains or the “spikes” on the virus membrane. These spikes allow the virus to bind to host cells and infect them. The mutations on this particular variant will enable it to infect host cells much faster and transmits much more rapidly. Investigations and research are ongoing to determine the ease of transmission and the effectiveness of the current vaccination on the virus variant SARS-CoV-2.
Receptor Binding of Spike Protein With ACE 2 Enzyme
- The new strain possesses some lineage-defining mutations that make it distinct and more infectious than other variants. There are 16 non-synonymous mutations, 4 deletions, and 6 synonymous mutations, which virologists claim is a significantly high number of mutations in a particular cluster of observations.
- Three of those sixteen mutations have the potential to cause a detrimental biological effect on the host system.
What is SARS-CoV-2?
N501Y is a mutation of the Receptor-Binding Domain that determines the success with which the spike protein binds with host cells. Biologists identify this mutation behind increasing binding affinity to human ACE2, (Angiotensin Receptor Enzyme), the cell-membrane associated enzyme found commonly in human cardiovascular tissue, renal, intestinal, endothelial, and testicular tissues.
ACE2 is abundantly expressed in human respiratory epithelia’s apical surface and supports viral entry & further replication. The spike proteins covering the surface of the Coronavirus-2 bind to the host cell receptor ACE enzyme 2 and make egress into the host cells
The N501Y mutation has been a significant cause of concern as it increases the ACE 2 binding affinity of the virus spike proteins.
- Spike deletion 69-70del occurred numerous times alongside RBD changes. Mutations such as the 69-70del are the reasons why antibody treatment is less useful for Covid-19.
- P681H is another mutation occurring near the furin cleavage site, a location of significant biological consequence.
Amongst the three, the N501Y mutation is the most significant cause of concern for virologists as it enhances the transmissibility of the virus multiple times.
- The binding of virus particles with host cells signifies the initiation of a viral infection. Mutations play a crucial role in enhancing the interaction of Sars-CoV-2 with host cell ACE 2 enzyme; naturally, new mutant variants of the coronavirus display high transmissibility in a cluster.
According to BBC.com, VOC 202012/01 is rapidly emerging as the coronavirus’s dominant form in the UK. It has made its way via vectors to the European mainland, Australia, Asia and the USA. In all probability, scientists believe that this variant emerged from an infected host with a weakened immune system.
No new symptoms from the new variant’s infection have been observed during the writing of this article.
Effectiveness of Vaccination on the New Strain (H2)
Virologists and medical biologists are optimistic that the viral mutations would not affect vaccines’ efficacy under production. Pfizer, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies globally and the manufacturer of a significant vaccine candidate, urged the masses to remain calm as they launch numerous tests to determine their vaccine’s efficiency against the new strain SARS-CoV-2.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines have been designed to counter and neutralize several mutant strains. They are optimistic that it will successfully counteract the new variant from the UK too. Tests and development are ongoing, and enhanced vaccine variations are expected, though Pfizer has accepted that the virus’s rapidly mutating nature is a central challenge to vaccine design.
Despite all the challenges, it is vital to keep our hopes up and look forward to the vaccination measures, all the while remembering to take necessary precautions and staying safe. So, always wear a mask in public, keep your hands sanitized, and remember to maintain social distancing at all times!
And, eat healthy and workout to keep your immune system strong and active! All the best!
Author-Bio: Robert Smith is a professional blogger and academic consultant. He has helped numerous clients over the past few years in academic projects. Currently, he is associated with MyAssignmenthelp.com, the best place to drop all your “solve my assignment” and all other kinds of academic writing requests.