Researchers have discovered a third new variant of the coronavirus in the United States and say it may be the most easily transmitted to date.
A team from Southern Illinois University Carbondale tracked the earliest appearance of a new variant called 20C-US in Texas in May 2020.
The variant carries several mutations, including the spike protein that the virus uses to enter and infect human cells.
Scientists say the variant has not spread significantly beyond country borders, and that is most widespread in the upper Midwest.
In addition, it could be responsible for at least 50 percent of all American cases, which means that it is very common.
The researchers predict that 20C-US could be the most dominant variant of the coronavirus in the United States right now.
Today, 20C-US is one of the growing lists of mutations discovered in countries like the UK, South Africa, and Brazil.
The news comes just a day after Ohio researchers announced the first discovery of two native varieties – one virtually identical to one originated in the UK and the other completely unique in the US and dominant in the capital, Columbus.
Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have found a third new variant of the coronavirus called 20C-US, which was first discovered in Texas in May 2020. PICTURED: Nurse Teresa Armendariz of the Odessa Regional Medical Center tests a person in western Texas for COVID-19 equine center in Odessa, Texas, Dec. 8
Researchers say the variant spread rapidly in late June and early July, coinciding with the second wave of the virus in the United States.
Between November 1 and December 31, the variant made up almost 50% of all sequenced US genomes (right)
The results were published on Wednesday in a pre-print article on bioRxiv.org.
Under the direction of Dr. Keith Gagnon, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SIU, first recognized the possibility of the new variant while studying genome sequencing data from Illinois.
"We were just looking at our Illinois local and country-specific data … and were asked (by the Illinois Department of Public Health) to look specifically for the UK variant spike protein mutations," he told DailyMail.com .
"We don't see a British variant as we go through the data, but I keep seeing this big ramification of the final genetic tree we reconstructed."
Of the viral genome samples taken from March to the present day and sequenced, one variant was more pronounced than the others.
The variant has not spread much beyond US borders and is most widespread in the upper Midwest (above).
While the virus is more widespread, it doesn't seem more deadly, just more transmissible
US SCIENTS FIND THREE HOMEGROWN & # 39; SUPER-COVID & # 39; VARIANTS
The US now has three of its own home-grown "super-covid" varieties that are more contagious than the most common types of coronavirus in the US – and the new varieties are spreading like wildfire in at least one state.
Two variants were identified by scientists from Ohio on Wednesday and the third by researchers from Illinois on Thursday.
One of the new, contagious varieties has already become dominant in Columbus, Ohio, where it was discovered.
So far, this native variant has been seen in about 20 samples since Ohio State University (OSU) scientists first discovered it in December.
It is now present in most of the samples they sequence.
A second variant has mutations that are practically identical to those of the British variant, but according to scientists at Ohio State University, originated completely independently on American soil.
Only one person was found with this variant.
The third new variant was discovered by a team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
The earliest appearance of a new variant called 20C-US was traced back to Texas in May 2020.
The prevalence increased in late June and early July 2020 and could account for up to 50% of all current cases.
To determine if it was present at the national level, the researchers randomly subsampled 3.3 percent of the US genomes available in the GISAID global genome database.
The earliest occurrence was found in a sample taken in the greater Houston area of Texas on May 20, 2020.
"The crazy thing is that it's been around for months, I'd say largely unnoticed, uncharacterized," said Gagnon.
"It wasn't that it wasn't undiscovered … but nobody I think really understood."
After the variant over time, there was a notable expansion in the variant's presence in late June and early July 2020, coinciding with the second wave of the pandemic in America in states like Wisconsin and Illinois.
However, between November 1 and December 31, almost 50 percent of all sequenced genomes from the United States are the new variant.
"It is a coincidence that the rise to dominance of this variant really began at the end of summer and especially during the third wave of pandemics," said Gagnon.
& # 39; It is tempting to speculate that this variation may play a role. The evidence suggests it. & # 39;
Researchers suggest that this means that 20C-US "exceeded the 50 percent penetrance to become the most dominant variant in the US".
However, it is widespread in the eastern and midwest regions and has not become widespread in the western half of the US.
20C-US has been reported in other countries including Australia, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, but at low levels.
The first mutations the virus showed were in genes related to the maturation of virus particles – a process by which a virus breaks off from a host cell and is activated to infect more cells – and the processing of viral proteins.
Gagnon says this is all important to virus production.
Since then, the new variant has made two new mutations in the spike protein, showing that it is evolving.
The variant doesn't seem more deadly, however.
"Even more speculative, but more interesting, is that we are finding that death rates are much lower when the cases are very high," Gagnon said.
This could indicate 20C-US is highly transmissible but causes only mild illness.
Dr. Daniel Jones of Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, who discovered the Columbus variant, told DailyMail.com that the Illinois variant was "closely related but not exactly identical".
Jones said this means the two research groups – in Ohio and Illinois – are likely to be tracking variants of the same growth.
With the first doses of newly licensed vaccines being given nationwide, Gagnon said it was not known if that would Variation will affect its effectiveness.
"Given the mutations so far, I don't think this will significantly affect the effectiveness of the vaccine," he said.
“ The catch is that the virus moved on and has acquired three mutations since May, two of which are in the spike protein, one of which could affect antibody binding. There are many unknowns. & # 39;
Both Pfizer and Moderna have tested their vaccines against the international variants and expect the bumps to provide protection.
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