Biotech Updates

Fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 Variant in the U.K. Raises More Questions

January 6, 2021

The U.K. strain of COVID-19 virus maybe 70% more transmissible than the previously reported types, though no enough evidence yet if it is more deadly. This led UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson to place tighter COVID-19 restrictions in London and southeastern England to contain the fast-spreading virus.

In early December 2020, a group of UK scientists gathered virtually to report the spread of pandemic coronavirus. Their discussions funneled into the increasing cases in Kent, a county in southeastern England, while the rest of the country was managing the spread of the virus. This led to investigations of viral genomes from the region, which showed that half of the cases in Kent were caused by a variant labeled as B.1.1.7, which is more skillful in transmitting between humans.

Aside from its ability to spread faster, the variant was found to have a mutation that leads to the loss of two amino acids in the spike protein. When virologist Ravindra Gupta from the University of Cambridge engineered a lentivirus to express the mutated versions of SARS-CoV-2's spike, it was found that the deletion alone made the virus twice as infectious for human cells.

These new findings raise more questions especially about the efficacy of the approved vaccines. Researchers are discussing if periodic updating of the vaccines might be necessary to effectively block the spread of the fast-evolving virus.

Read the original article in Science.

You might also like: