According to a study, the coronavirus has mutated and the new, dominant strain spreading across the U.S. appears to be even more contagious.
As reported by NBC News, the study was conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The new strain began to spread in Europe in early February before migrating to other countries. The strain hit the U.S. and Canada in late March.
The researchers warned in the study that if the coronavirus doesn’t subside in the summer the situation could get worse. Mutations of the virus could potentially limit the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines currently being developed.
Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos and lead author of the study, acknowledged the news is serious, but added the worldwide effort for a vaccine has its advantages.
“This is hard news,” Korber, told NBC News and wrote on her Facebook page.
“But please don’t only be disheartened by it,” she continued. “Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can.”
The study has yet to be peer-reviewed, but the news is of “urgent concern” considering more than 100 vaccines are currently being developed.
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is also currently spending billions to fund seven possible vaccines.
To find the mutation, researchers received help from Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England. Together, they analyzed thousands of coronavirus sequences collected by the Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza.
The initiative promotes the rapid sharing of data from all influenza viruses and the coronavirus. To date, the researchers have identified 14 mutations.
The mutation described in the study impacts the spike protein, a multifunctional mechanism that allows the virus to enter the host.