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|A team led by Professor Li Lanjuan has studied how the novel coronavirus mutates and possible implications for the pandemic. Photo: EPA-EFE.|
Zhejiang University scientists studied on 11 random patients with the disease from Hangzhou, where there have been 1,264 reported cases, and then tested how efficiently they could infect and kill cells. They uncovered some 30 different mutations - 19 of which had never been seen before.
Some mutations boosted the virus' ability to invade cells in the body, others helped the disease multiply more rapidly.
The most deadly strains were genetically similar to the ones that spread in Europe and in New York, reported the South China Morning Post.
“Sars-CoV-2 has acquired mutations capable of substantially changing its pathogenicity,” Li wrote in the paper.
The team discovered that some of the mutations could lead to functional changes in the virus’ spike protein. Spike protein is the protein that the coronavirus uses to attach itself to human cells.
Li 's team infected cells with COVID-19 strains carrying different mutations, of which the most aggressive strains were found to generate as much as 270 times as much viral load as the weakest strains. The aggressive strains also killed the human cells the fastest.
The results indicated "that the true diversity of the viral strains is still largely underappreciated,” Li wrote.
The study could have future implications on the treatment of coronavirus, as several different strains have been found throughout the world. The United States, which has the world's worst death toll at 42,897, and 799,515 overall cases, has been struck by different mutations. New York, which itself had the worst death rate in the US, and the eastern coast show a strain of coronavirus similar to that found in Europe, whereas the western US has shown similarities with strains found in China, according to Jerusalem Post.
Coronavirus has so far been treated in hospitals worldwide as one disease and patients receive the same treatment regardless of the strain. It has been suggested by the team at Zhejiang University that defining mutations in different regions may change the way we approach combating the virus.
“Drug and vaccine development, while urgent, need to take the impact of these accumulating mutations into account to avoid potential pitfalls,” the scientists said.
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