NUMEROUS STUDIES AROUND THE WORLD are investigating COVID-19 in an attempt to understand its behaviour. Reports in Europe are now confirming that the virus is already mutating.  Researchers found evidence indicating that the virus has—under selection pressure—made itself more stable, giving it a “significant boost in infectivity”. This is an excerpt from a report published in the spring issue of APJ Journal that has just been posted to all our members and subscribers. We are sharing part of this report to alert our readers to some interesting updates. Here is what has been observed.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the world, new research suggests that a coming genetic mutation within the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus may make it much more dangerous than it already is. This finding has significant implications for clinical laboratories that perform COVID-19 testing and the in vitro diagnostics (IVD) companies that develop and manufacture tests for COVID-19.

The mutation, called D614G, will provide the coronavirus with sturdier spikes that will increase its ability to latch onto and infect cells. That’s according to a study conducted at The Scripps Research Institute (Scripps) in Jupiter, Florida, which found that a mutated coronavirus may be up to 10 times more infectious than the original strain.

“Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” said Hyeryun Choe, PhD, Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology, Scripps Research, and senior author of the study.

Choe and Michael Farzan, PhD co-chair and professor in the Department of Immunology at Scripps Research, co-authored the study, titled,
“The D614G Mutation in the SARS-Cov-2 Spike Protein Reduces S1 Shedding and Increases Infectivity.” Their work is currently under peer review.

The researchers found that coronavirus particles containing the mutation tend to have four to five times more functional spikes than particles without the mutation. The spikes enable the virus to bind to cells more easily. The research suggests that the greater the number of functional spikes on the viral surface the greater the flexibility and potency of the coronavirus.

In the Scripps news release, Farzan said, “more flexible spikes allow newly made viral particles to navigate the journey from producer cell to target cell fully intact, with less tendency to fall apart prematurely.

“Over time, it has figured out how to hold on better and not fall apart until it needs to,” he added. “The virus has, under selection pressure, made itself more stable.”

The image above, taken from the Scripps Research news release, shows “a cryogenic electron microscope image of a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein side view, the S1 section of the spike is shown in green and the S2 portion is shown in purple. This unique two-piece system has shown itself to be relatively unstable. A new mutation has appeared in the viral variant most common in New York and Italy that makes this spike both more stable and better able to infect cells.” (Graphic and caption copyright: Andrew Ward lab, Scripps Research.)

MUTATION MAKES SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus ‘Much More Stable’
The two Scripps scientists have studied coronaviruses for nearly 20 years and performed extensive research on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that occurred in 2003. They noted that there is a difference between spike proteins of SARS, an earlier strain of coronavirus, and the new SARS-CoV-2 strain. 

The protein spikes of both strains were originally tripod shaped. However, the spikes of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are divided into two different segments: S1 and S2. According to the published study: “The S1domain mediates receptor binding, and the S2 mediates downstream membrane fusion.”

This feature originally produced unstable spikes, but with the D614G mutation, the tripod breaks less frequently, which makes more of the spikes fully functional and the virus more infectious.

“Our data are very clear, the virus becomes much more stable with the mutation,” Choe said in the news release.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is mutating, whether this will result in a higher rate of transmission or not, will need to be proven.  What we do know is that we need to step-up our understanding of its behaviour and employ evidence-based protocols to protect ourselves, our families and our clients.  

What is important here is that we stay educated, informed and access accurate information as it comes to light.  APAN is stepping up all efforts to prepare and protect the industry through the launch of the new PAN001 PANDEMIC INFECTION CONTROL PROGRAM.  The uniqueness of this program is that it includes two chapters of the Pathophysiology of Pandemics and Viruses.  It is a comprehensive course that includes an exam and is further supported by the International Safety and Infection Control Charter, providing an additional layer of protection against pandemics.

The course is currently being presented to the Federal Government for recognition as a self-regulatory program that can protect our industry from further lockdowns.

Please prioritise to complete this course and help us fight for you against future lockdowns.  Further information is included in the latest issue of APJ.  However, here is the link to the program on our website