A team from Scripps Research Institute in Florida has discovered that a slight genetic mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus significantly increases its ability to infect cells, according to a statement from the institution.
MIAMI Florida (Efe) – Virologist Hyeryun Choe, lead author of the study, said they were able to determine in cell culture systems that “viruses with that mutation are much more contagious than those without it”.
The D614G mutation increases the number or density of functional “spikes” on the viral surface by up to four or five times and makes them more flexible.
The spikes, which give the virus its crown-like appearance, make it capable of infecting cells, targeting the ACE2 cell receptors. “Our data is very clear. The virus becomes much more stable with mutation,” Choe said.
According to the release from Scripps Research Institute, based in Jupiter, Southeast Florida, the SARS-CoV-2 variant that circulated in the first outbreaks did not have the D614G mutation now the dominant variant in much of the world.
According to Michael Farzan, co-author of the research and co-chair of Scripps’ Department of Immunology and Microbiology, none of the SARS-CoV-2 sequences deposited in the GenBank database had the mutation.
By March, it was showing up in one in four samples, and by May in 70 percent of the samples, he said.
Choe and Farzan, who conducted their research with harmless viruses designed to produce key coronavirus proteins, warn that further epidemiological studies are needed to determine whether they have proven to be more effective at infecting cells because of the mutation also happens in “the real world”.
Both scientists have studied coronaviruses for nearly 20 years since the first SARS outbreak was recorded, and in 2003 they were the first to discover that SARS targeted the ACE2 receptors on cells, as does SARS-CoV-2.
In addition to Choe and Farzan, this research supported by the National Health Center were scientists Lizhou Zhang, Cody Jackson, Huihui Mou, Amrita Ojha, and Erumbi Rangarajan, and Tina Izard, all of Scripps Institution.
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