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expert reaction to paper looking at evolution of Sars-CoV-2, reporting there are not distinct types of the virus

A study, published in the journal Virus Evolution, reports on the volution of Sars-CoV-2, reporting there are not distinct types of the virus.


Dr Jonathan Stoye, Head of Division of Virology, The Francis Crick Institute, said:

“In this rapidly moving pandemic, the dataset examined in this paper closed on the March 12 with 396 sequences compared to some newer, although unpublished, work which assess April 12 (6331 sequences) and April 19 (7666 sequences) for the Los Alamos± and UCL¥ studies. This means there will be additional genetic changes that have happened since the Glasgow analysis took place.”




Prof Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said:

“There is much speculation about the possible emergence of more aggressive strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“As the virus grows to millions of copies in an infected cell, some mistakes are made in copying the genome of the virus and these result in small changes or mutations. These mutations often have little effect on the biology of the virus but allow us to map the geographic spread of the virus.

“But overall the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not mutate at a high rate (unlike some other RNA viruses such as HIV) and, as this paper indicates, there is currently no compelling evidence that the mutations have had a significant effect on how the virus affects us. A recent preprint (Korber et al.) suggests that some of these minor changes in the spike protein of the virus could influence the transmission and pathogenesis and may be important in the design of vaccines. But these are not different strains or types of virus they are viruses with minor changes and we don’t know if these changes have any clinically meaningful effects.

“Sequencing more genomes will help us to better understand the spread of the virus and whether some of the minor changes observed are important in the behaviour of the virus and how we should develop effective vaccines.”


Prof George Griffin FMedSci, Emeritus  Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at St George’s University of London, said:

“This paper demonstrating that SARS-CoV-2 has not mutated into different types is important and of course will need to repeated further as the infection proceeds. 

“This result will be reassuring to the vaccinologists who have already chosen viral antigens as their targets.”


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