Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is preparing to testify before a hearing by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) on Capitol Hill in Washington, USA, on June 30, 2020.
Kevin Dietsch | Reuters
The coronavirus has mutated in a way that could help the pathogen spread more easily, said White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Thursday.
Research is ongoing to confirm the possible mutation and its effects, Fauci said, adding that "there is a little argument about it". Viruses mutate naturally, and scientists have previously said that they have observed minor mutations in the coronavirus that have not significantly affected its ability to spread or cause disease.
The possible mutation that Fauci cited was reported by investigators from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in an article published in Cell magazine on Thursday. Florida Scripps Research virologists also wrote about the mutation last month, saying it "improves virus transmission." It is unclear when the mutation might have occurred.
"The data shows that there is a single mutation that allows the virus to replicate better and possibly have a high viral load," said Fauci in an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner from the Journal of the American Medical Association. "We have no connection to whether a person performs worse or not. It just seems that the virus replicates better and is possibly more communicable."
He added that the researchers are "still trying to confirm this".
The World Health Organization and its team of global researchers have kept an eye on more than 60,000 different genetic sequences of the coronavirus that have been taken from samples taken worldwide.
All viruses develop or mutate throughout their lifespan. RNA viruses such as the corona virus mutate faster than some other viruses, high-ranking WHO officials told reporters last month because, unlike human DNA, RNA viruses do not have a "natural error check," which means the virus code does not differ can correct itself.
Not every mutation will lead to a significant change in the behavior of the virus or its effects on humans, the WHO previously said. However, the United Nations Department of Health has created a comprehensive database of genetic sequences to investigate possible mutations.
The previous Thursday, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the WHO, told reporters at a press conference that "natural mutations" of the virus are expected. She explained that there are certain "domains" of the virus that are "more critical", such as the spike protein from which the corona virus takes its name.
"If major mutations occur in these areas, it could actually affect vaccine development," she said.
The mutation that Los Alamos researchers wrote about affects a particular amino acid, the report's authors wrote. The mutated variant is known as the D614G.