First image of new coronavirus variant reveals many more mutations than delta variant

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Researchers have revealed the first image of Omicron, the new coronavirus variant detected for the first time in South Africa and Botswana, indicating that it has more mutations than the currently dominant delta variant.

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A 3D image of Omicron produced and published by Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome shows that the variant has multiple mutations centered in the spike(s) protein – the part of the novel coronavirus that enables it to enter human cells.

“We can clearly see that the omicron variant presents many more mutations than the delta variant, which is concentrated at the top of a region of the protein that interacts with human cells,” the researchers said in a statement Sunday. ” “This doesn’t automatically mean that these variations are more dangerous, just that the virus has further adapted to the human species by generating another variant.”


The scientists called for further study to find out whether the adaptation seen in the variant is “neutral, less dangerous or more dangerous”.

Scientists have found about 50 mutations in the omicron, of which 30 are on the S protein, and half are in the receptor-binding domain — the part that binds to the ACE2 receptor on human cells through which the virus enters tissues.

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Red dots in the image, the researchers said, indicate areas with “very high variability,” while orange ones are those with “high variability,” and yellow ones with “moderate variability.” The green dots are the parts showing little difference between the two types of S protein, whereas the gray area shows the parts that do not differ.

“The number of cases in South Africa rose to 2,828 in 3 days, but this is probably partly due to intensive surveillance, although it is possible that the transmission rate is twice the delta (r=2) and the doubling time is around 4.8 days, Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said in a statement on Saturday.

“South Africa is going into summer and delta rates are very low, so it’s hard to say whether Omicron competes on delta,” Dr Openshaw said.

On Friday, the World Health Organization noted that there may be an increased risk of reinfection with the new B.1.1529 coronavirus variant, called Omicron, compared to other forms of concern.

“The number of such cases is increasing in almost all the provinces of South Africa,” the WHO said in a statement on Friday. “In recent weeks, there has been a rapid increase in infections, along with the detection of the B. variant.”

While there has been an increase in the number of people testing positive in the regions of South Africa thus affected, the WHO says further studies are underway to understand whether the increase in cases was due to omicrons or other factors. .

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution also highlighted that it is still unclear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease than other types of infection.

Experts said in a statement on Sunday, “Preliminary data suggest that hospitalization rates are increasing in South Africa, due to an increase in the total number of people being infected as a result of a specific infection with Omicron. It is possible.”

He urged all countries to increase surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating variants of the novel coronavirus, and to submit whole genome sequences and related metadata to publicly available databases, such as GISAID.

WHO and many health experts around the world have called for increasing global vaccine equity to ensure that new forms of concern do not emerge.

“It is very likely that current vaccines will protect against severe disease with Omicron as they do for all previously identified virus variants. But it highlights the need to be vigilant – the pandemic is not over,” said Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School.


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