Science & Technology

COVID-19: Isolated virus mutation found in India raises alarm

The mutated strain could capsize global vaccine development efforts, according to researchers

Last Updated: Thursday 16 April 2020

A strain of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that was isolated in India has revealed a mutation, which could capsize global vaccine development efforts, according to a non-peer reviewed study published in bioRxiv.

The strain was isolated from one of the first three novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients in Kerala on January 27, 2020.

SARS-CoV-2 consists of a strand of ribonucleic acid (RNA) enclosed in a protein shell covered with crown-like spikes. The mutation happened in spike protein's receptor binding domain, which allows the virus to attach to ACE-2 (angiotensin converting enzyme-2).

ACE-2 is an enzyme present in human lungs, kidney, heart and gut cells. It modulates blood pressure and immune response.

Most vaccine and drug development efforts are aimed at hindering the action of the spike protein. 

According to scientists, the mutation has made SARS-CoV-2 less likely to bind to ACE-2 receptors. While this may have reduced the virulence of the virus, vaccines under development targeting the spike protein may not work with patients infected with the mutated virus strain.

SARS-CoV-2 is considered to have a relatively low mutation rate as compared to SARS — which means it will be easier for scientists to develop a vaccine.

If the virus mutates constantly, vaccine needed to fight it will have to be monitored closely and put under periodic tests and updates.

More than two million people have tested positive to the virus from across the globe so far. More than than one lakh people have died. 

India reported close to 12,000 cases of the disease, with over 400 deaths, as on April 16, 2020. 

While five COVID-19 vaccine contenders are in phase I clinical trials, 73 are in preclinical stages. According to the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness, a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is expected to be ready by early 2021.



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