More than a half dozen SARS-CoV-2 lineages have evolved similar mutations affecting the same amino acid of the viral spike protein, worrying scientists, the New York Times reports.
Researchers in Louisiana and New Mexico spotted increased numbers of viral samples with a Q677P substitution in the S protein, it notes. As they report in a preprint posted to MedRxiv, the researchers report that this alteration was first noticed in the US late October and has since risen in number, accounting for 27.8 percent and 11.3 percent of all SARS-CoV-2 genomes sequenced in Louisiana and New Mexico, respectively, between December and mid-January. Additionally, by sifting through GISAID, the researchers further uncovered the independent evolution of six other lineages with the Q677P alteration.
The Times notes that it is unclear whether this alteration makes the virus more infectious, but that because of its affected amino acid's position on the spike protein, scientists are concerned, especially as the alteration has arisen numerous times. "I think there's a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit," senior author Jeremy Kamil from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center tells the Times.
The Times adds that Kamil and his colleagues are now examining just what the effect of this alteration is on SARS-CoV-2.