COVID viruses are losing parts of their genome

Why it matters that COVID viruses are losing parts of their genome

Why it matters that COVID viruses are losing parts of their genome

Again and again, the new coronavirus has sloughed off small chunks of its genome, leading to changes in a viral protein that is frequently targeted by antibodies.

When evolution snips out a stretch of an organism’s genome, the change is called a deletion. Kevin McCarthy and Paul Duprex at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania and their colleagues searched a database of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences and identified more than 1,000 viruses with deletions in the genomic region that encodes a protein called spike (K. R. McCarthy et alScience https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abf6950; 2021). The virus uses the spike protein to invade cells.

Further analysis showed that the deletions tended to crop up at a few distinct sites in the genomic region coding for spike. Some of the deletions have arisen independently multiple times, and some show evidence of spread from one person to another.

A powerful antibody against SARS-CoV-2 could not latch onto spike proteins harboring some of the deletions that the team identified. But antibody mixtures collected from people who had recovered from COVID-19 could disable viral variants that had deletions.

Source: Nature.com

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