A form of the novel coronavirus which has become the dominant type in much of the world may have done so thanks to a mutation that allows it to better latch onto human hosts’ cells, new research indicates.

Lab tests performed by US-based Scripps Research, in a study which has not yet been peer-reviewed, showed that this isolate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (as the coronavirus is officially known) was much more infectious than others when introduced to cell cultures.

Researchers said the Spike D614G mutation, which has proliferated around the world, has sturdier spikes — the projections on the virus’s body through which it attaches to cells and which give the virus its “crown,” or “corona” — than the original Wuhan strain.

Virus particles with the mutation thus tended to have 4 to 5 times the number of functional spikes, enabling them to more easily bind to cells.

“Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, who led the study, said.

Specifically, they were “nearly 10 times more infectious in the cell culture system that we used.”

The D614G mutation has been the most widely-observed form in North America and Europe. Study co-author Michael Farzan said the form first appeared in a global database in February, and by May was present in 70 percent of uploaded samples.

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

Image Credit:  AP

Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen.  Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen

News This Week