Researchers Say They’ve Identified Coronavirus Variant Strains That Are Likely To Have Originated In US

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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Researchers at Ohio State University say that they’ve discovered two new coronavirus variants that are likely to have originated in the U.S., numerous sources reported.

The new variant carries a mutation identical to the U.K. strain, which is more contagious and has been detected in several states, a statement from The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center said. The variant likely originated in the U.S. and is classified as COH.20G/501Y. It was discovered in a patient in Ohio.

The researchers also report the evolution of another U.S. strain with three new mutations. The “Columbus strain” was the dominant virus in the city in late December and into January, and includes gene mutations “not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.”

“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” Dr. Dan Jones, the leader of the study, said in the statement. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”

The mutations in the Columbus strain are likely to make the virus easier to pass from person to person, according to the researchers, but there is not yet any reason to believe that vaccines won’t be effective against them.

“The big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective,” Peter Mohler, a co-author of the study, said, according to the statement. “At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.”

Vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech are effective against the highly contagious coronavirus strain that originated in South Africa and the U.K., a study found, however, health experts have warned that although unlikely, it is possible that the virus will develop mutations to help it evade the vaccine. (RELATED: Pfizer Vaccine Effective Against Contagious Coronavirus Strain, Study Shows)

The team at Ohio State said they would continue to examine data to check for changes once vaccination occurs.

The discovery of the Columbus variant found in the single patient also suggests that the same mutation may be occurring in other parts of the world in the last few months. 

“Viruses naturally mutate and evolve over time, but the changes seen in the last two months have been more prominent than in the first months of the pandemic,” Jones said.

The Trump administration began requiring travelers from the U.K. to test for COVID-19 in December in order to enter the country after the more infectious strain was detected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later announced in January that the government would require all international airline passengers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before traveling to the U.S.