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Epidemologist explains why COVID-19 mutations shouldn’t scare you

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A new strain of the coronavirus may be responsible for the faster spread of the virus in London and south-east England, it has been announced. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the coronavirus variant is called N501Y. This particular strain has been increasing in frequency since August.

The idea of a mutating virus, breaking out into new strains, is enough to scare most people. But are these fears justified, and where do they come from?

Surely Hollywood must bear some responsibility for our misconceptions about mutation. After all, the concept has inspired moviemakers for decades, starting with Die, Monster, Die! in 1965 through to big-budget franchises, such as X-Men. Both tell tales of changes to DNA resulting in superhuman abilities.

Movie special-effect makers like to show these DNA changes in the most dramatic fashion possible – often accompanied by glowing colors and explosions – but real-life genetic mutations are a far more sedate affair. So you shouldn’t be too concerned when you hear that the coronavirus is mutating. It is a normal part of evolution.