How did the omicron coronavirus variant evolve to be so dangerous?

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Omicron has go a planetary menace to nationalist wellness acknowledgment to a peculiarly unsafe acceptable of mutations, but wherever did it travel from?

Health 17 December 2021

By Michael Le Page

Lab technician

A technician astatine the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine successful Durban, South Africa

New York Times / Redux / eyevine

We bash not cognize for definite wherever oregon however the omicron variant of the coronavirus acquired specified an extended and unsafe acceptable of mutations earlier beginning to dispersed similar wildfire astir the world, and we whitethorn ne'er know. It astir apt evolved successful a azygous immunocompromised individual, perchance an HIV-positive idiosyncratic surviving determination successful confederate Africa who was not receiving effectual treatment, but determination is nary nonstop grounds for this.

How did we observe the omicron variant?

Researchers successful South Africa noticed a tiny summation successful cases successful Gauteng state and decided to series much samples. They recovered a variant with a batch of worrying mutations and alerted the satellite connected 25 November. Researchers elsewhere noticed this variant astir the aforesaid clip from sequences uploaded to nationalist databases.

What’s antithetic astir it?

Omicron has astir 50 mutations compared to the archetypal microorganism discovered successful Wuhan, China, with 30 successful the outer spike macromolecule alone. That matters due to the fact that the spike macromolecule is the people of our antibodies. The extended changes successful omicron’s spike macromolecule greatly trim the effectiveness of the antibodies radical person from vaccination oregon from corruption with different variants.

How did it get truthful galore mutations?

There are 2 main hypotheses. The archetypal is that it evolved successful a idiosyncratic with a compromised immune system. Normally each viruses are killed erstwhile our immune effect kicks successful afloat but if a person’s immune strategy is anemic immoderate viruses tin support replicating successful their bodies and germinate implicit respective months to go overmuch amended astatine evading antibodies.

Is determination immoderate grounds this is what happened?

There is nary nonstop grounds but this process of accumulating mutations has been observed happening successful an idiosyncratic with HIV who was not responding to treatment. The researchers who discovered omicron person called for efforts to tackle HIV to beryllium stepped up.

What’s the different main idea?

That the microorganism infected animals of immoderate kind, acquired tons of mutations arsenic it dispersed among them and past jumped backmost to radical – a improvement known arsenic reverse zoonosis.

What grounds is determination for omicron evolving successful animals?

Some of the mutations successful the spike proteins are the aforesaid arsenic those seen successful SARS-Cov2 viruses that person adapted to spreading successful rodents, and specifically mice. But this could conscionable beryllium a coincidence.

Could this person happened successful mice successful a lab?

Most of the 7 cardinal radical successful the satellite person rodents surviving adjacent their homes, if not wrong them, truthful determination person been countless opportunities for this for this to hap with mice oregon rats. Very fewer labs are doing experiments that impact infecting mice with SARS-Cov2, and none of them are successful confederate Africa. In different words, the laboratory mice thought cannot beryllium ruled retired but seems highly unlikely.

Are determination immoderate different possibilities?

Omicron could person evolved gradually arsenic it dispersed from idiosyncratic to idiosyncratic successful 1 of the galore parts of the satellite wherever small oregon nary sequencing is done. But fixed how infectious it is, it’s hard to explicate wherefore nary of its ancestors dispersed wide capable to scope countries that bash much sequencing. Another anticipation is that the cause molnupiravir, which works by inducing truthful galore mutations it kills viruses, could person played a part but determination is nary grounds to enactment this speculation.

Where did omicron arise?

The earliest confirmed omicron cases to day were successful South Africa and Botswana successful the archetypal fractional of November. However, it’s estimated that omicron archetypal started spreading successful radical in aboriginal October. We don’t cognize wherever that happened. That said, the information that the archetypal omicron question is successful South Africa does suggest an origin determination successful the region.

I work that omicron was detected elsewhere earlier South Africa reported it?

Several countries including the US and the Netherlands person present reported omicron cases from mid November but these bash not predate the earliest confederate African cases and are astir each associated with question from the region. There was a study of omicron being recovered successful Nigeria successful October, but this was aboriginal said to beryllium a mistake.

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