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N440K coronavirus variant spreading more in southern Indian states

NEW DELHI: A new coronavirus variant with escape ability, N440K, is spreading faster in some states, and virus mutation will result in new variants, as per a CSIR-CCMB study.

The novel variants that are worrying many countries globally, have been identified with only a low prevalence in India so far.

These include the variants with immune-escape E484K mutation and the N501Y mutation with higher transmission rate.

“However, their apparent low prevalence might be simply because not enough sequencing has been done. More coronavirus genomes need to be sequenced across the country to accurately identify the emergence of these and other new variants”, said Dr Rakesh Mishra, Director, CCMB and corresponding author on the study.

The study also finds that a few novel variants are spreading more in some states of India.

“We now have emerging evidence that N440K is spreading a lot more in southern states. Closer surveillance is needed to understand its spread properly. Accurate and timely detection of new variants that may show greater infectivity or worse clinical symptoms, including immune escape, will be extremely important to preempt disastrous consequences,” said Mishra.

In this paper, the authors explain how different coronavirus variants gained prevalence in India during the last one year. One of the variants, called the A3i had mutations that were predicted to make its spread slower.

The study confirms that it was overtaken by the globally prevalent A2a variant, carrying the D614G mutation, by June 2020. The A2a variant has remained in global dominance for the major part of the year 2020.

The recently discovered variants in many countries have raised concerns because of their mutations in the Spike protein that makes the coat of the virus and come in contact with the human cells. Some of these coronavirus variants can also be immune-escape, and cause reinfection. We need to have a focused approach towards monitoring the virus mutations. India has not been sequencing SARS-CoV-2 isolates to full capacity, having deposited only about6,400 genomes so far,” concludes Dr Divya Tej Sowpati, the co-corresponding author of the study.

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