The “Deltacron” variant caused experts to suspect that it might be a laboratory error

Technicians at Covid Labs in India on Friday, January 7, 2022.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Global health experts are skeptical of reports of a new possible Covid-19 mutation, which appears to be a combination of delta and omicron variants, called “deltacron”, saying that the “strain” is more likely to be a laboratory processing error.

According to reports, over the weekend, a researcher in Cyprus discovered a potential new variant. Bloomberg News on Saturday Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, called the strain “deltacron” because it has genetic characteristics similar to omicron in the delta genome.

Kostrikis and his team stated that they have found 25 cases of mutations. The report added that it was too early to determine whether there were more obvious cases of new strains or their possible effects. Bloomberg reported that the findings of the investigation were sent to Gisaid, an international database that tracks changes in the virus, on January 7.

Deltacron “unreal”

Since then, some experts have questioned this finding. A World Health Organization official tweeted on Sunday that the “deltacron” popular on social media platforms over the weekend was “not true” and “may be due to sequencing artifacts. , “Variations introduced by non-biological processes.

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, a WHO Covid expert, said on Twitter that in this case, “the Omicron fragments in the Delta specimen may be contaminated by the laboratory”.

In another tweet, she sarcastically pointed out: “Let’s not combine the names of infectious diseases and leave it to celebrity couples”

Other scientists agreed that these findings may be the result of laboratory errors. Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, also said on Twitter, “The Cypriot’Deltacron’ sequence reported by several large media looks very different. Obviously contaminated.”

In another tweet, he pointed out that “many of us have seen the sequence and come to the same conclusion that it does not look like a real recombinant”, referring to the possible rearrangement of genetic material.

Fatima Tokhmafshan, a geneticist at the McGill University Health Center Institute, agreed. She said on Twitter that “this is not a recombinant” but “laboratory contamination b/c [because] Looking at the GISAID recently submitted by Cyprus, clustering and mutation characteristics show that there is no consensus on mutations. “

Another well-known scientist, Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta, suggested a cautious approach. He tweeted on Sunday: “The story of #deltacron is just because I’m in the last 24 hours. Please interpret it carefully. The information currently available indicates that the sample is contaminated, not a true reorganization of the #delta and #omicron variants.”

However, she also pointed out that genetic material belonging to the delta and omicron variants may be mixed because both strains continue to spread, which is a worrying proposal.

“Recombination may occur in coronaviruses. Enzymes that replicate their genomes tend to slip off the RNA strands it is replicating, and then reconnect to where it stopped. Use #delta and #Omi Keron In circulation, the double infection of the two variants adds to this concern,” she wrote on Twitter.

For his part, the scientist who announced the discovery of “deltacron” defended his findings and told Bloomberg on Sunday that these findings were not the result of “technical errors.”

In an e-mailed statement, Kostrikis said that the cases he found “showed that the ancestral strain was under evolutionary pressure to acquire these mutations, not the result of a single recombination event.”

According to reports, he also stated that these findings were obtained after samples were sequenced multiple times in more than one country, and at least one sequence from Israel is stored in the global database, showing the genetic characteristics of “deltacron”. CNBC has contacted Kostrikis for further comment, but has not received a response.

The Minister of Health of Cyprus, Michael Hajipantra, said on Saturday that the ministry is aware of reports on “deltacron” and there is no need to worry about it at this time. According to local media reports.

He said that more information about the controversial variant will be announced this week, adding that he is proud of the discovery by scientists in the country.