Ohio researchers on Wednesday announced that they’ve identified two coronavirus variants that likely originated in the United States.
One of the new strains was identified in a single patient in the state, “so researchers do not yet know the prevalence of the strain in the population,” according to Ohio State Wexner Medical Center where researchers first identified the variants.
This new variant “carries a mutation identical to the U.K. strain, but it likely arose in a virus strain already present in the United States,” officials said.
Additionally, researchers also found what was described as an “evolving strain with three new mutations” that has become “the dominant virus in Columbus during a three week period in late December 2020 and January.”
“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said Dr. Dan Jones, vice-chair of the division of molecular pathology and lead study author, in a statement. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”
The Columbus variant has been named COH.20G/501Y, they said.
The findings were published as pre-print server BioRxiv and have not yet been peer-reviewed.
Researchers at the medical center identified the new strains by sequencing the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which they have been doing since the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep tabs on the “evolution of the virus,” they said.
“Like the U.K. strain, mutations detected in both viruses affect the spikes that stud the surface of SARS-Cov-2. The spikes enable the virus to attach to and enter human cells. Like the U.K. strain, the mutations in the Columbus strain are likely to make the virus more infectious, making it easier for the virus to pass from person to person,” according to university researchers.
Experts expressed concerns that the mutations could effect the efficacy of existing COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. However, “we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use,” said Peter Mohler, a co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and vice dean for research at the College of Medicine, in a statement.
“It’s important that we don’t overreact to this new variant until we obtain additional data,” Mohler continued. “We need to understand the impact of mutations on transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population and whether it has a more significant impact on human health.”
Monitoring the evolution of the virus will be critical to understanding how the mutations affect how doctors diagnose and treat the virus, he said.
“Viruses naturally mutate and evolve over time, but the changes seen in the last two months have been more prominent than in the first months of the pandemic,” Jones added.