These findings may help to explain “how dangerous and clever the virus is by being able to mutate in a way that the antibodies don’t seem to recognize and defend against these new variants,” said the professor.
Kamlendra Singh developed a cough and fever on the flight back to Missouri from India in April, despite being vaccinated for COVID-19 and testing negative for the virus just before departure.
Even so, Singh tested positive for COVID-19 upon his return home in Boone County, most likely due to infection with the Delta variant – a diagnosis shared by other fully vaccinated people and those who had already tested positive for the contagious virus. He was curious as to why.
After Singh recovered at home, he joined forces with MU undergraduate student Austin Spratt, Hickman High School freshman Saathvik Kannan, and University of Nebraska Medical Center professor Siddappa Byrareddy to analyse protein sequences for more than 300,000 COVID-19 samples of two emerging variants around the world, known as Delta and Delta Plus. They also worked with MU professor Siddappa Byrareddy.
In comparison to Delta infections, the team used bioinformatics tools and programming to identify five specific mutations that are considerably more widespread in Delta Plus infections, including one mutation, K417N, which is present in all Delta Plus infections but not in nearly any Delta infections. Researchers now have vital indications regarding recent structural alterations in the virus, and the findings show that the toolkit for combating COVID-19 must be expanded.
“Whether it is natural antibodies produced from previously having COVID-19 or the antibodies produced from the vaccine, we are showing structurally how dangerous and clever the virus is by being able to mutate in a way that the antibodies don’t seem to recognize and defend against these new variants,” Spratt said.
“These findings help explain why there have been so many people testing positive for the Delta variants despite being vaccinated or having previously been infected with COVID-19.”
It’s feasible, according to Singh, that the creation of antiviral medications that target specific parts of the virus that aren’t altered by mutations could be another tool in the fight against the pandemic.
“There has not yet been a vaccine for HIV due to the unpredictable variability that often comes with viruses that mutate frequently,” Singh said. “If we can develop small molecule drugs that target the part of the virus that does not mutate, that will be the ultimate solution for combatting the virus.”
“Evolutionary analysis of the Delta and Delta Plus variants of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses” was recently published in the Journal of Autoimmunity.
Funding was provided by MU’s Bond Life Sciences Center and the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska.
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