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Omicron's Emergence

Scientists raised the alarm last week about a new, heavily mutated SARS-CoV-2 viral variant, which has prompted the World Health Organization to declare Omicron a "variant of concern," as the Los Angeles Times reports.

Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, includes a plethora of mutations, the World Health Organization adds. These include 32 changes that affect the viral spike protein, according to the Guardian. Science says that that change is how a lab in South Africa spotted the variant — PCR tests were missing the viral S gene.

"We were shocked by the number of mutations," Tulio de Oliveira from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa tells Science.

Some of these changes could lead to increased infectivity and decreased antibody recognition, the University of Cambridge's Ravi Gupta tells the Guardian. The Wellcome Trust Jeremy Farrar's notes at Science that more time is needed to work out how different Omicron may be from other SARS-CoV-2 viral variants.

NPR adds that Omicron has been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci tells ABC News it that the variant will eventually be found in the US. "As we all know, when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here," Fauci said on ABC's This Week. "The question is: Will we be prepared for it?"

The Scan

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Researchers in Current Biology analyzed genome-wide data from more than five dozen Mapuche individuals to better understand their genetic history.

Study Finds Variants Linked to Diverticular Disease, Presents Polygenic Score

A new study in Cell Genomics reports on more than 150 genetic variants associated with risk of diverticular disease.

Mild, Severe Psoriasis Marked by Different Molecular Features, Spatial Transcriptomic Analysis Finds

A spatial transcriptomics paper in Science Immunology finds differences in cell and signaling pathway activity between mild and severe psoriasis.

ChatGPT Does As Well As Humans Answering Genetics Questions, Study Finds

Researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics had ChatGPT answer genetics-related questions, finding it was about 68 percent accurate, but sometimes gave different answers to the same question.