Author: Anastasia Safronova, RT editor
Covid-19 variants continue to appear in different parts of the world, which makes experts question how long the epidemic will last and how effective current protection methods are.
Since the start of the 2019 pandemic, people have referred to this disease that paralyzed the world as “coronavirus.” Now, in 2021, when we talk about it, we are not only referring to the original variant, but also to its many mutations.
In May, WHO decided to mark key variants with Greek letters. Since then, the Delta variant has been declared as the main strain worldwide, and now we have a title that looks like a code to detail the differences between the variants. Last month, the United Kingdom was on high alert due to the rapidly spreading Delta AY.4.2 variant. This week, Norway reported the discovery of another version of the Delta strain-AY. 63. Experts in the country believe that it is not more dangerous than the Delta mutation itself. At the same time, another Covid variant (B.1.640) discovered in France brought an unpleasant surprise to the researchers: They said they had never seen such a mutation.
Professor David Dockrell of the Inflammation Research Center of the University of Edinburgh described to RT the reasons for the continuous mutation of the coronavirus. “The areas most likely to change in the virus are those areas that are exposed to what we call’selective pressure’-or the factors that make them need to change,” He explained. “Therefore, a mutated and changed version of the virus gives it the selective advantage of evading the immune system and is more likely to prosper and become a dominant strain.”
This is how it works: the part of the virus that many immune responses (or antibodies, T cells, etc.) respond to is called the spike protein (or S protein). Therefore, the virus tries to change it to survive.
“We know that when exposed to the selective pressure of the immune system, various viruses can mutate and change, whether it is the human immune system or other species that these viruses have evolved.” Professor Dokrell said. “Of course, we saw HIV most clearly. It is particularly good at change and evolution. It does something called’reverse transcription’-it copies matter from DNA to RNA in the opposite direction.”
Covid still seems to be faster than human efforts to contain it, but Professor Dockrell has some good news. “Coronaviruses-and similar viruses-cannot make these changes. They will do this to a certain extent, but they will not be as successful as retroviruses and HIV.”
Another important thing to say: When the virus changes, there will always be what we call “adaptation costs.” Many of the potential changes that the virus may cause are actually not conducive to its survival. Therefore, the virus can only make a certain number of potential changes before it starts to affect its adaptability.
Now, unfortunately, we are still at a stage where Covid19 can continue to develop and change. However, this is not the time to panic, because various methods to adapt to the current anti-coronavirus strategy are in place around the world. First, people should continue to vaccinate-maybe receive a slightly changed booster dose, Professor Dokrell suggests, “To some extent, we are after all related to the flu. We provide seasonal flu vaccines and replace them every year.”
“Maybe we have to constantly change some treatments, such as these new monoclonal antibodies against viruses, because they may also be limited by the emergence of viral mutations that evolve the S protein,” He added.
It sounds promising-but won’t it be a never-ending race against constantly emerging mutations?
Hope not. According to Professor Dockrell, certain parts of the virus are called “protected areas” by scientists. Over time, vaccines and monoclonal antibodies will target areas where these viruses find it difficult to change. “Obviously, the direction of development is either to develop vaccine responses that affect more different types of viruses, or to develop these’monoclonal antibodies’ that we can use to prevent or treat infections. They will target more conservative regions, so the restrictions will Less through the ability of these viruses to evolve and change,” He concluded.
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