A certain mutation already appeared in Europe in early February. Hence, that mutated virus variant ended up in the US, Canada and elsewhere and quickly became the most common variant. That means, the researchers say, that the mutation helps the virus spread.
The mutation occurred on one of the protrusions – the spikes – from the ‘crown’ of the coronavirus and has been given the name Spike D614G. SARS-CoV-2, like other coronaviruses, uses those protrusions to invade and multiply body cells.
That is why the same protrusions are the target of choice for medicines, but also, for example, for the use of antibodies in research by Erasmus MC and Utrecht University.
Due to its rapid spread and the site of the mutation, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Duke Human Vaccine Institute in the US and several institutes at the University of Sheffield in England conclude that the mutation D614G is “a reason for urgent concern” .
But they have not proven that the mutated virus penetrates human cells more easily, multiplies more and thus infects people faster. They do note, however, that the virus with the D614G mutation is more quickly detectable in infected persons, because they carry more virus particles.
“If this variant takes over from the earlier, it shows that this variant spreads more easily,” says Anke Huckriede, professor of vaccology at the UMCG.
In an article in the American magazine The Atlantic, various scientists nuance the research results. University of North Carolina coronavirus specialist Lisa Gralinski finds the conclusions plausible, but lacks evidence.
“Saying that you reveal that there is a variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is easier to transfer without ever actually testing has made me uncomfortable as a scientist.”
Professor of virology at Erasmus MC Marion Koopmans also lacks evidence for the proposition that the D614G corona variant spreads more easily. “You can’t say that based on this analysis,” she says. “Genetic analyzes can give indications, generate hypotheses, but then it has to be further investigated.” This can be done in the laboratory or with animal experiments.
“It would of course be even more convincing if they had also shown experimentally that the virus with the D614G mutation more easily infects a cell and / or produces more new virus particles per cell,” says Huckriede.
Failure to take measures
Coincidence can also play a role in the spread of this mutated virus variant. For example, it may have ended up in Italy with travelers from China and from there spread further through Europe and the world.
Also the long absence of measures – for example social distancing and staying home with complaints – in countries such as the US, Brazil, Russia and the UK may have promoted the spread of the virus – mutated or not.