What Are The 677 Mutations? New Covid-19 Variants Found In The US

This winter, new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have taken the world by storm. They have emerged in corners of the globe as disparate as Brazil and the United Kingdom; exhibited an array of new and worrisome properties, ranging from increased transmissibility to immunogenicity; and complicated our best efforts to collectively mitigate the spread of Covid-19 through public health measures and vaccines. Earlier this week I wrote a piece detailing why this trend is so concerning for the United States, where variants of concern have been identified in states like Ohio and California but otherwise remain relatively under the radar, circulating unbeknownst to most Americans. In today’s installment, I want to focus on the recent appearance of what researchers are calling the 677 variants, a crop of lineages that at least for now seems confined to the US alone.

A hallmark of viral variation is that the tiny alterations distinguishing one variant from the next can arise in separate locations at the same time, developing independently of one another. One example is the N501Y spike protein mutation that is known to increase the affinity of the virus for our ACE2 receptors. N501Y was first spotted in the genome of the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, but it didn’t take long for scientists to discover its presence in the B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1 (Brazil) variants as well. Another spike protein mutation linked to immune escape, E484K, has also acquired high global frequency, appearing first in B.1.351 and more recently in B.1.525, the latest variant to wash up on British shores.

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Originally published on Forbes (February 19, 2021)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.