- A coronavirus mutation may have made the virus more contagious than the initial strains, Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a new interview.
- The nation’s top infectious disease expert acknowledged that not everything is clear, and there’s a debate that needs to be clarified through further research.
- A variety of studies explained that the D614G mutation of the virus is now the dominant strain in Europe and the US, concluding that the genetic change increased the pathogen’s ability to infect cells.
A string of five characters, D614G, will not mean anything to people who haven’t been closely following news about the novel coronavirus pandemic. But others will recognize one of the more common SARS-CoV-2 mutations that has been detailed in a variety of studies. The simple gene variation affects the spike protein of the virus, which is responsible for attaching the pathogen to healthy cells. Some scientists believe that D614G is responsible for an increase in contagiousness, with a recent study describing the way the mutation improves the virus’s ability to hook up to cells. Not all geneticists agree with these findings, and more research will be needed to establish whether the D614G strain is indeed more infectious than the first strain of the virus that emerged from Wuhan, China.
Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged the findings of these studies and the dispute, saying that it appears the mutation may have increased the contagiousness of the virus.
“The data is showing there’s a single mutation that makes the virus be able to replicate better and maybe have high viral loads,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert said. Speaking to The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Dr. Howard Bauchner in a wide-ranging interview about the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci added that “we don’t have a connection to whether an individual does worse with this or not; it just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible.”
Researchers previously said that an increase in contagiousness doesn’t imply an increase in severity. The virus isn’t more deadly just because it can link up to cells more easily. It’s just more infectious. This could help explain the massive surges in cases in Europe from a few months ago, and in the US now. The D614G version of the virus is believed to be the most dominant strain.
Fauci isn’t the only expert addressing mutations of the virus. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Dr. Soumya Swaminathan told reporters at a news briefing that the “natural mutations” of the virus are to be expected. The WHO’s chief scientist explained that certain domains of the virus are “more critical” when it comes to genetic changes. The spike protein where the D614G mutation has been observed is one of them. “If major mutations occurred in those domains, it might actually affect the development of vaccines,” she said.
So far, the D614G mutation doesn’t appear to have affected work on coronavirus vaccines. The point of these experimental drugs is to teach the immune system to create neutralizing antibodies that could link up to the spike protein and prevent the virus from attaching itself to the ACE2 receptors in lung cells. The coronavirus needs to take over the chemical capabilities of the human cell and manufacture thousands of replicas, which can then infect neighboring cells. By neutralizing the spike protein, the infection can be stopped well before complications appear.
Some of the recent studies suggest that the D614G mutation increases the stability of the spike protein, making it less likely to break off from the virus’s body. This alone could make the coronavirus up to 10 times more infectious. Other scientists also theorized that the genetic variation could facilitate the virus’s ability to enter a cell after contact.
Fauci has not elaborated on all these findings, but his interview with JAMA does touch on several key aspects of the pandemic and the US government’s response to it. Check it in full below: