End the duopoly

A new coronavirus mutation is taking over the world. Here’s what that means.

The novel coronavirus uses its spike protein (dark blue) to infiltrate host cells, whose machinery it uses to replicate its RNA (yellow). A mutation in the protein that allows SARS-CoV-2 to enter cells might make it easier for the virus to spread — or it might not make a difference at all.

That’s the crux of a debate over a mutation known as D614G, which affects the spike protein on the virus’ surface. The mutation is not new. It appears in low levels in samples taken from COVID-19 patients as far back as February. But this variation of the virus (nicknamed the “G” variation) seems to show up in more and more of the virus samples taken from people infected recently compared to early in the pandemic.

A new paper, published July 2 in the journal Cell , argues that the rise in the “G” variation of the new coronavirus is due to natural selection. The study finds that virus particles with this mutation have an easier time making their way into cells, suggesting that it is outcompeting other strains of the virus to become the dominant version of SARS-CoV-2. Other, not-yet-published experiments have found similar results. However, some researchers are […]

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