Researchers discover COVID-19 variant in Ohio patient

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) — Scientists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine have discovered a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 in a patient from Ohio.

According to a press release, the new variant of SARS-COV-2 carries a mutation identical to the UK strain, but it likely arose in a virus strain already present in the U.S.

Researchers also report the evolution of another U.S. strain that acquired three other gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.

The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center has been sequencing the genome of SARS-Cov2 viruses in patients with COVID-19 since March 2020 in order to monitor the evolution of the virus.

Researchers don’t know yet the prevalence of the strain in the population.

In contrast, the press release states, the evolving strain with the three new mutations 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,” study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology, said in the release. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”

The big question is whether the mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective.

“At this point, 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. “It’s important that we don’t overreact to this new variant until we obtain additional data. 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. Further, it is critical that we continue to monitor the evolution of the virus so we can understand the impact of the mutant forms on the design of both diagnostics and therapeutics. It is critical that we make decisions based on the best science.” 

The scientists said the discovery of the Columbus variant suggests the same mutation may be occurring independently in multiple parts of the world in the past few months.

“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 said. 

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