A small coronavirus mutation that scientists have been worried about for weeks may make it more infectious, according to a new study.
The study suggests the mutation gives the virus four to five times more spikes, which make it more stable and easier to infect human cells.
“Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” says Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, Ph.D., senior author of the study.
The mutation, called D614G, affects the spike protein, a structure on the outside of the virus that it uses to enter cells, according to researchers at Florida’s Scripps Research Institute.
They say more research is needed to determine whether the change has altered the pandemic’s course.
Also, the changes may explain why the virus has caused so many infections in the United States and Latin America.
According to researchers, “The SARS-CoV-2 variant that circulated in the earliest regional outbreaks lacked the D614G mutation now dominating in much of the world.”
The researchers say it is still unknown whether this small mutation affects the severity of symptoms of infected people or increases mortality, adding that more research is needed to confirm their findings.
The work is now undergoing peer review.
This week, the World Health Organization said the mutations seen so far in the new coronavirus would not affect vaccines under development.