Story at a glance

  • The study led by researchers from University College London published Wednesday in Nature Communications analyzed a global dataset of virus genomes from more than 46,000 people with COVID-19 from 99 countries.
  • Researchers so far have identified more than 12,700 mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • “Fortunately, we found that none of these mutations are making COVID-19 spread more rapidly, but we need to remain vigilant and continue monitoring new mutations, particularly as vaccines get rolled out,” researchers said.

None of the mutations observed in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 appear to increase the virus’s transmissibility, a new study says. 

The study led by researchers from University College London published Wednesday in Nature Communications analyzed a global dataset of virus genomes from more than 46,000 people with COVID-19 from 99 countries. 


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Researchers so far have identified more than 12,700 mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 mutate all the time and most are neutral. But some can be advantageous or detrimental to the virus, potentially with troublesome consequences, such as making the virus more contagious and a vaccine less effective. 

But so far, researchers say they have yet to find any evidence common mutations are increasing the virus’s transmissibility. 

“We realised early on in the pandemic that we needed new approaches to analyze enormous amounts of data in close to real time to flag new mutations in the virus that could affect its transmission or symptom severity,” Lucy van Dorp, a professor at University College London’s Genetics Institute and a lead researcher of the study, said in a statement

“Fortunately, we found that none of these mutations are making COVID-19 spread more rapidly, but we need to remain vigilant and continue monitoring new mutations, particularly as vaccines get rolled out,” she said. 

Researchers found most of the virus’s mutations occurred as a result of the human immune system response, rather than the result of the virus adapting to its human host. 

Over the course of the pandemic, one mutation in the virus spike protein called D614G was reported as being a mutation that could make the virus more contagious than earlier strains that emerged out of Wuhan, China. 

The study published Wednesday found the mutation is in fact not associated with a greater increase in transmission. 

Francois Balloux, a UCL professor who worked on the research, said the virus posed no threat to COVID-19 vaccine efficacy at this time but warned the introduction of vaccines could exert new selective pressures on the virus to mutate to escape recognition by the humane immune system. 

“The news on the vaccine front looks great. The virus may well acquire vaccine-escape mutations in the future, but we’re confident we’ll be able to flag them up promptly, which would allow updating the vaccines in time if required,” Balloux said


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Published on Nov 25, 2020