Scientists are trying to understand a mutation of the novel coronavirus seen around the globe that some believe could make the virus more contagious, according to a report.
The mutation, officially designated D614G or “G” for short, has been found to affect the virus’ spike protein, which is a structure that allows it to enter human cells. The more effective the spike protein, the easier it can enter a host’s body.
Research has suggested that the mutation, which changes amino acid 614 from “D” (aspartic acid) to “G” (glycine) might make the spike protein more effective, which enhances the virus’ infectiousness, according to The Washington Post.
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Researchers have found that out of the roughly 50,000 genomes of the new virus uploaded to a shared database, about 70 percent carried the mutation.
“The epidemiological study and our data together really explain why the [G variant’s] spread in Europe and the U.S. was really fast,” Hyeryun Choe, a virologist at Scripps Research, told the paper. “This is not just accidental.”
Choe was the lead author of an unpublished study on the G variant’s enhanced infectiousness in laboratory cell cultures. He said there were a couple of reasons why “G” was more effective in spreading the virus.
In the mutation, the outer parts of those proteins that bind to a human receptor were less likely to break off, which was a fault of SARS-CoV-2, the virus originated in China that causes COVID-19.
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The faulty mechanism made it so the SARS-CoV-2 had a harder time invading host cells. He added that “G” has more spike proteins, and said those reasons made the mutation 10 times more infectious in lab experiments, according to the Post.
“I think this mutation happened to compensate,” Choe said.
The mutation was also found to be more contagious in four studies that have yet to be peer-reviewed. One study by scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory concluded that patients with the “G” mutation also have more virus in their bodies, making them more likely to spread it to others, the report said.
Others believe more studies are needed to determine how effective the mutation is in spreading the virus.
“The bottom line is, we haven’t seen anything definitive yet,” said Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
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Choe added the mutation didn’t impact the lethality of the virus for those infected, only how contagious it became, according to the paper.