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Mutants Different From Variants, COVID Appropriate Behaviour Vital To Stop Spread: Scientists

According to Rakesh Mishra, CSIR-CCMB director, 7,684 mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome were documented from the data analysis of 6,017 genomes sequenced so far

Mutants Different From Variants, COVID Appropriate Behaviour Vital To Stop Spread: Scientists
Highlights
  • Not all mutations would linger around in the population for long: Expert
  • Mutation is not unique to SARS-CoV-2: Virologist Upasana Ray
  • There is a need to increase the genome sequencing rate: Expert

New Delhi: More than 7,000 SARS-CoV-2 mutations have been documented but that doesn’t translate to variants, say scientists, emphasising the distinction between the two and cautioning that the spike in cases in some states is likely due to non-adherence of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. If safety protocols are not followed, new versions that can spread faster or dominate the previous version could emerge, they warned as worries mounted over a recent study showing 7,684 mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in India.

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: What Is Genome Sequencing And How Can It Help Combat COVID-19 Pandemic

Though the study from Hyderabad’s CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology is alarming and led to panic in some quarters, some mutations are only to be expected.

According to Rakesh Mishra, CSIR-CCMB director and study co-author, 7,684 mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome were documented from the data analysis of 6,017 genomes sequenced so far.

That doesn’t mean 7,000 variants are going around in the country. This only shows that the virus is mutating as expected, and we have documented what these mutations are, Mr. Mishra told PTI.

He added that it is difficult to say right now how many variants there are in the country. A mutation means a change in a nucleic acid base or amino acid molecule, and a virus containing this change is termed a mutant, explained virologist Upasana Ray.

Mutations eventually accumulate to generate variants that differ from the original virus more and more, and so, a variant can have limited or even cumulative mutations, she added. While it is not surprising to find many new mutations, it is important to sequence and document them, said the senior scientist at Kolkata’s CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology.

Not all mutations would even linger around in the population for long. Some remain, some fade off, Ms. Ray told PTI.

Mutation is not unique to SARS-CoV-2, she said. The longer a virus stays in the population and spreads, the more the mutations and hence more variants.

Also Read: Genome Sequencing Of Coronavirus In Sewage Can Help Detect Local Variants: Study

If a virus attains a significant degree of change from its original form so that there is a major change in antigenic epitopes, it has a chance to escape the immunity offered by the existing vaccines, Ms. Ray said.

An epitope is the part of virus cells that is recognised by the immune system. The analysis by CSIR-CCMB found that novel variants worrying many countries globally have so far only low prevalence in India.

These include the variants with the immune-escape E484K mutation and the one with the N501Y mutation found to have a higher transmission rate. While the E484K mutation is found in both the South African and Brazil variant lineages, the N501Y mutation is found in the UK variant.

But the low prevalence in the country might be simply because not enough sequencing has been done, the authors of the study said, calling for robust sequencing of coronavirus genomes across India.

Noted virologist Shahid Jameel said there are currently 5,261 SARS-CoV-2 sequence entries from India in the GISAID database, a global science initiative that provides genomic data of the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also Read:  5 Per Cent Of COVID-19 Cases To Be Tested For Whole Genome Sequencing Due To New Virus Strain In UK: Centre

“With 11 million confirmed cases, that is a sequencing rate of under 0.05 per cent,” Mr. Jameel, director, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, told PTI. In his view, there isn’t enough information on mutations, especially variant lineages in India, due to low sequencing. “In the absence of that, I would say the surge is most likely due to non-adherence to COVID appropriate behaviour, Mr. Jameel added.

There are only four patients from Maharashtra recently in whom a mutation called E484Q has been seen. This change is not as drastic as E484K, which is found in the South African and Brazil variant lineages. Since clinical and epidemiological correlations have not been done yet, we can’t say if this is the cause of rising cases. Unless we see more of this, four cases are not enough to make that claim, Mr. Jameel said.

He, however, cautioned that it is important to understand that more transmission will increase the chances of mutations developing.

So Covid appropriate behaviour also cuts down on the development of variant viruses, he said.

Mr. Mishra agreed that the current surge in certain states is less likely due to some new variant, and more likely due to people ignoring COVID protocols.

I don’t see any recent superspreader events till now, because whatever sequencing has been done doesn’t point to any new fast-spreading variant in the country, he added.

Mr. Mishra also emphasised that the findings do suggest the likelihood of new variants arising if continuous mutations in the virus genome are discovered.

Also Read: COVID-19 Outbreak: New Coronavirus Strains In The Country Could Be More Dangerous, Says Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS- Delhi

Sequencing of the genome to look for mutations is to keep a track of the virus genome so as to check what this will hold for vaccine and drug efficacy. For example, the UK variant has around 17 mutations in its genome, he said.

Ms. Ray said even vaccination can put a virus under stress and change it to a form (variant) that can evade the immune response, adding that the chance of this is low if mass immunisations are done faster.

According to Mr. Jameel, a mutation is a normal consequence of a virus multiplication, but it is hard to say what is a normal number.

The spike protein changes — due to mutation in the spike gene — have not shown anything that would compromise vaccine efficacy, he noted.

The spike protein helps the virus enter human cells. There has been a rise in the number of daily infections in five states: Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh in the past few days. Of these, Maharashtra and Kerala are the most worrying, accounting for about 75 per cent of the total active COVID-19 cases in the country.

The N440K and E484Q variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been detected in Maharashtra, Kerala, and Telangana. Also, three other mutated strains — one each from the UK, South Africa, and Brazil are already present in the country. But there is no reason for us to believe presently, on the basis of scientific information, that they are responsible for the upsurge of the outbreak in some districts of Maharashtra and Kerala, NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said in a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday (February 23).

With 13,742 new infections, India’s COVID-19 count has gone up to 1,10,30,176 while recoveries are at 1,07,26,702, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Wednesday. There are 1,46,907 active cases of coronavirus infections in the country, which comprises 1.33 per cent of the total caseload, the data stated.

Also Read: N440K And E484Q, Two New Variants Of Novel Coronavirus Detected In India: Health Ministry

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

World

24,36,58,646Cases
20,51,42,869Active
3,35,67,367Recovered
49,48,410Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 24,36,58,646 and 49,48,410 have died; 20,51,42,869 are active cases and 3,35,67,367 have recovered as on October 25, 2021 at 4:04 am.

India

3,41,89,774 14,306Cases
1,67,6954,899Active
3,35,67,367 18,762Recovered
4,54,712 443Deaths
In India, there are 3,41,89,774 confirmed cases including 4,54,712 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,67,695 and 3,35,67,367 have recovered as on October 25, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

66,02,961 1,410

27,506 128

64,35,439 1,520

1,40,016 18

Kerala

49,15,331 8,538

77,964 3,191

48,08,775 11,366

28,592 363

Karnataka

29,85,986 388

8,740 203

29,39,239 586

38,007 5

Tamil Nadu

26,95,216 1,127

13,034 246

26,46,163 1,358

36,019 15

Andhra Pradesh

20,63,577 400

5,102 120

20,44,132 516

14,343 4

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,095 13

103 9

16,87,093 4

22,899

West Bengal

15,86,455 989

7,882 151

15,59,518 828

19,055 10

Delhi

14,39,603 37

320 14

14,14,192 51

25,091

Odisha

10,38,411 447

4,185 33

10,25,917 410

8,309 4

Chhattisgarh

10,05,847 20

219 11

9,92,056 31

13,572

Rajasthan

9,54,402 2

31 1

9,45,417 3

8,954

Gujarat

8,26,418 16

164 4

8,16,167 20

10,087

Madhya Pradesh

7,92,749 9

85 6

7,82,141 3

10,523

Haryana

7,71,157 16

127 12

7,60,981 4

10,049

Bihar

7,26,058 4

38 2

7,16,359 2

9,661

Telangana

6,70,274 135

3,950 34

6,62,377 168

3,947 1

Assam

6,08,589 139

3,857 111

5,98,759 244

5,973 6

Punjab

6,02,209 20

229 2

5,85,429 22

16,551

Jharkhand

3,48,627 35

224 22

3,43,268 13

5,135

Uttarakhand

3,43,821 6

163 6

3,36,259 11

7,399 1

Jammu And Kashmir

3,31,638 72

866 4

3,26,343 68

4,429

Himachal Pradesh

2,22,638 69

1,496 82

2,17,406 149

3,736 2

Goa

1,77,886 34

545 29

1,73,983 63

3,358

Puducherry

1,27,735 61

467 10

1,25,411 49

1,857 2

Manipur

1,23,292 63

931 30

1,20,450 89

1,911 4

Mizoram

1,17,419 158

8,080 863

1,08,927 1,016

412 5

Tripura

84,389 5

98 3

83,475 8

816

Meghalaya

83,371 49

639 56

81,286 102

1,446 3

Chandigarh

65,323 2

28 1

64,475 1

820

Arunachal Pradesh

55,089

132 10

54,677 10

280

Sikkim

31,900 32

200 5

31,306 27

394

Nagaland

31,712 5

243 7

30,790 12

679

Ladakh

20,904 5

37 1

20,659 6

208

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,679

4 0

10,671

4

Lakshadweep

10,365

0 0

10,314

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,648

6 2

7,513 2

129

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