WHO expert warns of 'over 500k' Covid deaths in Europe by Spring
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The alarming discovery highlights a process, known as recombination, by which an infected person can become host to a new virus strain. New strains of the coronavirus and other viral pathogens typically emerge as a result of random mutations during replication. In this case, however, recombination occurs when two different strains of a virus infect the same host cell and interact with one another when replicating.
The resulting viral offspring is said to share genetic material and characteristics from both parent strains.
Researchers from the University of Oxford claim to have found one such virus in the US, after analysing the B.1.628 Covid strain.
B.1.628 has been described as “persistent” in the US and is even present in the UK and was being monitored by health officials, according to reports by Public Health England.
Now, in a study that is yet to be peer-reviewed, the Oxford researchers have claimed the virus is the recombined offspring of the B.1.631 and B.1.634 variants.
According to a report in The Independent, all three strains of the coronavirus are in circulation across the US and Mexico.
This has led scientists to believe B.1.628 first emerged in North or Central America.
Oliver Pybus, Professor of Evolution and Infectious Disease, warned that “recombination as a source of new and viable virus genetic diversity needs to be taken seriously”.
In another study published in the journal Cell, Professor Pybus and colleagues found evidence of another recombined Covid strain present in the UK.
The study reads: “Enhanced transmissibility and immune-escape phenotypes have already been observed in SARS-CoV-2.
“Consequently, the characterization of recombination in SARS-CoV-2 is important for surveillance purposes.”
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According to Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the Univesity of Nottingham, viral recombination is much more frequent “when you have lots of viruses circulating”.
The Covid pandemic has proven to be a bountiful breeding ground for new strains of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus to emerge, due to its global nature.
As of Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) data indicates more than 257,000 million people have been infected with the virus.
And there are presently four Covid strains that have been labelled “of concern”, including the more easily transmissible Delta variant.
At least two different strains are also considered to be “of interest” and seven are “under monitoring”.
Professor Ball was quoted saying: “When you have lots of virus circulating, as now, you have lots of opportunities for recombination to take place.
“If the new combination of genetic elements renders the virus less fit then it will be quickly outcompeted.
“If not then the recombinant strain can persist.
“Sometimes the recombinant form might be fitter in which case it is likely to take off in much the same way that we have seen other variants dominate.”
The major difference, he added, is that recombination allows for a wide range of genetic mutations to take place at once, which can have a much bigger impact on the virus.
But this is not guaranteed to happen, which is why scientists are keen to closely monitor these strains once they are identified.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, agreed the recombination process is “clearly a cause for concern” and a potential source “for a new super-variant” of Covid.
He argued the Oxford team’s findings highlighted the need to keep monitoring the coronavirus and how it evolves.
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