New Strain of SARS-CoV-2 Spreads Faster

The UK announced stricter lockdown measures as they reported a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, which goes by the name B.1.1.7 appears to be better at spreading between people. This new strain B.1.1.7 has acquired 17 mutations all at once, which has never been seen before. The researchers think it happened during a long infection of a single patient that allowed SARS-CoV-2 to go through an extended period of fast evolution, with multiple variants competing for advantage. One of the reasons for concern is that among the 17 mutations, 8 are in the gene that encodes the spike protein on the viral surface, two of which are worrisome.

One, called N501Y, has previously been shown to increase how tightly the protein binds to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptors, its entry point into human cells. The other, named 69-70del, leads to the loss of two amino acids in the spike protein and has been found in viruses that eluded the immune response in some immunocompromised patients. There is a possibility that other countries may have this variant as well by the UK picked it up first due to the sophisticated SARS-CoV-2 genomic monitoring.

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