It was Tuesday, December 8, and a group of scientists addressed the coronovirus at a routine routine meeting. Kent County in the south-east of England experienced an increase in confirmed cases, but the scientist specifically stopped the phylogenetic tree (the graphic representation of various genetic variants and their relatedness). It was completely dominated by line B.1.1.7 (also known as VUI-202012/01) in an unprecedented manner.
Microbial genomic Nick Loman of the University of Birmingham has not seen that part of the tree admitted to the science mag. The line, discovered on 20 September, is one of several that is coronavirus. However, in the middle of November, in 26 percent of the cases, the week starting December 9, its percentage was several times higher. “In London, it was 60 percent,” said Patrick Valence, the government’s chief scientific advisor, on Saturday.
Mutations are nothing more than incorrectly transmitted genetic information during replication, and viruses are normally and quickly mutated. Fortunately, the coronavirus virus SARS-CoV-2 has between 1 and 2 mutations on average per month, and is four times slower than influenza virus and eight times slower than HIV virus.
Line B.1.1.7 shows 17 mutations, 8 of which are located on the spike protein that the virus uses to enter the host cell. Two of these eight mutations are of concern to scientists, the N501Y and 69–70d mutations. They may affect the rate at which the infection spreads and may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine.
In Spain, it was spread due to tourists, not mutations
It was the speed at which the B.1.1.7 line “dominated the field” that led the scientist to assume that the virus in this line was favorable for mutual transmission and therefore spreading rapidly. Referring to the government’s scientific group, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the line could spread as fast as 70 percent. As a result, London and the surrounding area went into the toughest lockdown just before Christmas, and Europe began to cancel flights to the British Isles.
However, many scientists warn against hasty steps. Instead of saying “I think it’s more contagious,” said Carl Henegan, a professor of evidence-based medicine (EBM), I’d like to have very clear evidence that uses the best current evidence when making decisions about individual patient care Addresses ) From Oxford University.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, he said, “I’ve been doing this job for twenty-five years and I can tell you that you can’t schedule it in such a short time.” “They make the data compatible with the evidence. Henegan said they are seeing an increase in cases and are looking for evidence to explain it.
German virologist Christian Drosten thinks so. According to him, it is premature to talk about the line spreading so fast. “There are too many unknowns to say something like this,” Droston told Science Mag.
The virus could have spread by chance. As an example, a different line with the similar name B.1.177 was discovered in Spain in the last months (characterized by the 20A.EU1 mutation). At first, scientists thought it could be significantly more contagious, but today they are inclined to believe that tourists have contributed to its spread throughout Europe.
Droston further argues that the new line includes a deletion (deletion of part of the genetic code) in the part of ORF8. Studies have suggested that attenuation of this gene may decrease the spread of coronavirus.
Scientists need to be vigilant
However, this does not mean that the line should be approached lightly. The N501Y mutation has also been detected in another SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus line in South Africa. The data there also suggests that the virus is spreading rapidly with this change. However, scientists add with a breath that they need more data to analyze the South African line. Line B.1.1.7 may already be wider.
For this reason, and in the absence of more data on the line, the restriction of flights to Great Britain seems to be virologist Emma Hodcroft of Basel University as a “really extreme measure”. It would not be strange, given the interrelationship of today’s world, if the line had already existed in other countries. Finally, for example, the Netherlands reported the first case of B.1.1.7 in its region last week.
According to epidemiologist William Hangay, the discovery of the line in Britain may be the reason that the United Kingdom has one of the best genetic surveillance systems in the world. Many other countries have little or no involvement in genomics.
In the Czech Republic, scientists at the National Reference Laboratory, in collaboration with the State Veterinary Institute, practice genomics “out of pure enthusiasm”, according to biologist Helena Jinkova, because they do not have sufficient financial or personnel powers.
Similar virus lines can arise anywhere. Furthermore, with imminent vaccination of the population, their detection will become more important. The vaccine will create a strong selective pressure on the virus, and it is an exaggeration to say that only the “most capable virus” will survive in a partially vaccinated society. According to scientists, finding lines that may be resistant to vaccines in time will be one of the important tasks in the following stages of the epidemic.
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