A new study find that the coronavirus has mutated to become more contagious in the months since it first emerged, and if it continues to do so, it might make vaccine development even more difficult. The study comes from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was published on BioRxiv on Thursday. While the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, the researchers said it is of "urgent concern" to the scientists all over the world working on vaccines for COVID-19.
The new study on coronavirus mutation has dire implications for the road to recovery from this global pandemic. It studies the contagious effects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. The lead author of the study is Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos. According to a report by The Los Angeles Times, she made a post on her Facebook page telling friends not to be discouraged by her study's findings.
"This is hard news, but please don't only be disheartened by it," Korber said. "Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can."
The study makes note of two slightly different strains of the coronavirus currently circulating the world. Researchers have traced one back to Europe, saying it traveled to the North America and is the prominent case spreading around the U.S. and Canada. This is the one they believe has mutated to become even more contagious than it was when it first appeared in Wuhan, China.
The scientists were reportedly able to analyze thousands of coronavirus sequences in their study, with the help of researchers from other institutions around the world. They have identified 14 coronavirus mutations in total. In particular, a mutation that impacts spike protein is what allows the virus to enter a host more easily, making it more contagious.
This news comes amid growing calls for the U.S. to reopen public spaces in some way, and return to a semblance of normal life. However, many public health authorities have spoken out against these measures, saying it is too soon for the U.S. to set aside social distancing. For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.