Infectivity of the second British mutation has increased by 70-80%. As a result, new strains of the virus began to dominate the country by mid-December.
Molecular biologists from the University of Hong Kong have studied two strains of a new type of coronavirus with the “British” mutation N501Y. The first of them (501Y) turned out to be only 10–15% more infectious than its predecessors, and the second surpasses its progenitor by 70–80%. The preliminary results of the study are published in the scientific journal medRxiv.
Scientists tracked how the COVID-19 gene changed in recent weeks and months and studied how often strains with the N501Y mutation were found before and how quickly they spread.
Calculations confirmed that the first such strains appeared in Wales at the end of August. On the other hand, they showed that the N501Y mutation itself had a rather weak effect on the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, increasing it by only 10-15% compared to the dominant types of coronavirus in Europe. Therefore, the first versions of the “British” coronavirus were initially found in only 0.2% of patients in Wales.
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The second version of this virus turned out to be much more dangerous, in which three amino acids were removed from the S-protein molecules – a key part of the SARS-CoV-2 envelope, which is directly responsible for binding to ACE2 receptors and infecting cells. Due to their disappearance, the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 with the N501Y mutation has increased by about 70-80%. As a result, new strains of the virus began to dominate the country by mid-December.
In addition, the study shows that the South African version of the coronavirus with the N501Y mutation has nothing to do with its British version, as it has a different set of small mutations. This suggests that such changes in the genome of the coronavirus can often appear spontaneously. This must be taken into account by both epidemiologists and when developing and using vaccines.