The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 originated in Wuhan, China. However, as the virus spread across the world, replicating in people’s bodies, it picked up mutations. Many keeps asking can Coronavirus mutate
The most significant one happened in Europe where this new strain outcompeted the Chinese strain. But should we worry? And what are mutations anyway?
What are mutations?
Before asking Can Coronavirus Mutate, let’s look at the meaning of mutation. Mutations are changes in the genomes of organisms. They are genetic mistakes that get replicated in ever advancing generations of an organism.
The vast majority of them are harmless and fade into the background. But there are some that change the organism, in this case a virus, in a dangerous way. Given that covid-19 is new, scientists are watching it closely to follow the changes as they occur.
Even though a virus isn’t technically alive, it does contain genetic material in the form of DNA or RNA. Viruses with high mutation rates, like HIV, make it more difficult to create a vaccine. We get yearly flu shots because influenza mutates quickly making each year’s version different from last year’s. Luckily, scientists don’t think this is the case with SARS-CoV-2.
Too much speculation, not enough hard evidence
There is a non-peer reviewed paper that speculates that this new strain of the coronavirus genome makes it more contagious. However, there simply isn’t enough evidence to make any conclusions so far. There are reports saying that the virus has mutated up to 30 times while others say that there are only 2 different strains. Basically, a lot of speculation from the media and not much conclusive evidence from the scientific community. This is not surprising since this is a novel or new virus. But rest assured, dangerous mutations are rare and most mutations are harmless.
Mutations and lineage
Geneticists and virologists use mutations for tracking. This is exactly how companies like 23andme or ancestry.com use the mutations in your DNA to figure out your ancestral lineage. Except, in this case, virologists are using the virus’ mutations to track the “migration” of the virus around the world.
Stop the spread, stop the mutations
As more research comes out, the scientific community will continue to review, test, and assess many of the hypotheses out there about SARS-CoV-2. What can the general public do to help? We can continue to maintain social distance, wear masks, and other PPE to flatten the curve and contain the spread of the virus. Viruses can only replicate if they are in human cells and this replication is what causes mutations. By making sure we, the public, don’t help spread the virus, we will decrease the chances of a scary mutation occurring.
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