Johannesburg, Nov 27, : Researchers are attempting to track the rise in the SARS-CoV-2 variant.This variant is known to harbor a large number mutations that were found in other variants including Delta.In South Africa, the new variant, B.1.1.529 has been detected in a small number of cases.Friday’s assignment of the variant’s Greek letter Omicron by the WHO was made on Friday.
Researchers found B.1.1.529 in Botswana’s genome-sequencing data.Nature reported that the variant stands out because it contains more changes to the spike protein, the SARS-CoV-2 protein which recognises host cells and is the main target for the body’s immune response.
Many of these changes were found in variants like Alpha and Delta, and have been linked to increased infectivity and the ability evade infection-blocking antibody.
“There’s a lot that we don’t know about this variant,” Richard Lessells, an infectious-diseases doctor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, said at a press conference organized by South Africa’s health department on November 25,
He said, “The mutation profile is concerning, but we now need to do the research to understand the significance and what it means to the response to the pandemic.”
Genome sequencing and other genetic analyses showed that the B.1.1.529 variation was responsible for all 77 virus samples from Gauteng collected between 12 November and 20 November.
Lessells explained that the variant contains a spike mutation that allows it be detected by genotyping tests, which deliver results much faster than genome sequencing.
Researchers plan to test the virus’s capability to evade infection-blocking antibody and other immune responses.
The variant contains a large number of mutations in the spike protein, which antibodies recognize.This could potentially reduce their effectiveness.
Penny Moore, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, was quoted saying that “Many mutations are problematic, but many others look like they are likely contributing further evasion.”
Scientists believe that Omicron could also be immune to T cells, which are part of the immune system.
They are more concerned about whether it will “reduce vaccine efficacy, because it has such many changes?” Aris Katzourakis, a researcher at Oxford University, UK, was quoted as saying.
Moore stated that breakthrough infections have been reported in South Africa by people who have received any one of the three types of vaccines available there: Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Lessells stated that Omicron is also being studied in South Africa by researchers to determine if it causes a more Severe or milder form of the disease.
It is not known if the variant is more transmissible that Delta.
Therefore, they suggested that countries with high Delta prevalence should be on the lookout for Omicron.
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