A man wearing a face mask waits for a train in the Central Station during the COVID-19 pandemic in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, on November 3, 2020.
Wei Xuechao | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
LONDON – A global study of 12,000+ coronavirus mutations found none of them spread the virus that causes Covid-19 faster.
Researchers at University College London assessed Covid mutations in over 46,000 samples from people in 99 different countries and concluded that all mutations appeared to be neutral when it came to speeding up the spread of the virus.
The peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the Nature Communications Journal identified a total of 12,706 mutations. Of these, 398 strains of the coronavirus were found to have occurred repeatedly and independently.
The researchers decided to look at 185 mutations that had appeared independently at least three times over the course of the pandemic.
"Recurring mutations currently in circulation appear to be evolutionarily neutral and are mainly induced by the human immune system through RNA manipulation rather than being signatures of adaptation," the study researchers said.
"As of this writing, we are not finding any evidence of significantly more transmissible lines of SARS-CoV-2 due to recurrent mutations," they added.
"Missed the Early Window"
The study's results come from drug manufacturers and research centers striving to provide a safe and effective vaccine that will help end the coronavirus pandemic.
The British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced on Monday that an interim analysis found that its coronavirus vaccine had an average effectiveness of 70%. The news followed strong results from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna on the effectiveness of each of their vaccine candidates.
COVID-19 coronavirus molecule, March 24, 2020.
CDC | API | Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Viruses mutate naturally, and scientists have previously said that they observed minor mutations in the coronavirus that did not significantly affect its ability to spread or cause disease.
However, earlier this year, a much-discussed mutant variant of the coronavirus known as D614G was believed to improve virus transmission. This prompted White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci to warn that the newly discovered variant could help the pathogen spread more easily.
"Mutations, which are quite common, all seem neutral to the virus it is carrying. One of them is D614G, which, according to our analysis, is more of a stowaway who is lucky on a successful line than a driver of transmission," said Professor Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute and one of the authors of the study.
"This begs the question why # SARSCoV2 is so well suited for transmission in humans. One plausible answer is that we missed the early window when it was adapting to humans," Balloux said on Twitter on Wednesday.
To date, according to the Johns Hopkins University, more than 60.5 million people have contracted the coronavirus, with 1.4 million deaths.