One particular alteration in the SARS-CoV-2 genome is becoming more common, leading researchers to wonder what that change does, the Washington Post reports.
Northwestern University's Egon Ozer tells it that the initial SARS-CoV-2 strains seen in Chicago resembled those observed in China, but that viruses isolated later in the city were more similar to those from Europe and New York. The new strains had a particular mutation within the spike protein-encoding region, the Post says, adding that 70 percent of genomes uploaded to a viral database have this D614G change.
According to the Post, researchers around the US are trying to work out the ramifications of that change. One group led by Scripps Research's Hyeryun Choe reports in a BioRxiv preprint that the change enables the virus to better bind to ACE2 receptors on host cells, possibly making the virus more infectious. Another group led by Neville Sanjana at the New York Genome Center and New York University reports similar results in their own manuscript, though the Post notes that they and other researchers have differing thoughts on why the variant may lead to increased infectiousness.
However, it adds that others argue that this variant's new dominance could be due to a founder effect or just that most of the sequenced viruses are from Europe and the US.