From the Journals

Future variants of concern likely lurk in today’s patients


(Reuters) – The many coronavirus particles inside an infected person likely include some mutated ones that could turn out to be early examples of important variants, new findings suggest.

Closely analyzing virus particles obtained from 10 people with infections attributed to the Alpha variant in Spain in April 2021, researchers identified some virions containing four of the mutations characteristic of the Omicron variant, which did not emerge until seven months later in South Africa with more than 30 changes relative to the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 virus. They also found mutations seen in a form of Delta and Iota, according to a report published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

While identifying an individual patient’s dominant variant may be sufficient for diagnostic purposes, the “ultra deep” genetic sequencing used in this study could help scientists track mutations in virus particles with the potential to evolve into variants of concern, the researchers said.

“The virus that replicates in each infected patient is in reality a mixture of slightly different SARS-CoV-2 viruses,” and these different viruses account for varying proportions of the full “ensemble,” said coauthor Celia Perales of Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. Minority variants in one infected individual can become dominant in someone else, either by chance, or due to a selective advantage related to the presence or absence of drugs, vaccines, or other factors, she said.

Reuters Health Information © 2022

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