Researchers also found an evolution of another U.S. strain with three gene mutations that has reportedly become the dominant virus in Columbus during three weeks in late December and early January.
“This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”
Wexner Medical Center has been sequencing the genome of the virus in patients since March to watch for evolutions. It is not clear how prevalent the new strain is at this time.
“The big question is whether these mutations will render vaccines and current therapeutic approaches less effective,” said Peter Mohler, co-author of the study and chief scientific officer at Wexner Medical Center and vice dean for research at the College of Medicine. “At this point, we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.”
It’s important to not overreact until more information can be gathered, he added.
“We need to understand the impact of mutations on transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population and whether it has a more significant impact on human health,” Mohler said. “Further, it is critical that we continue to monitor the evolution of the virus so we can understand the impact of the mutant forms on the design of both diagnostics and therapeutics. It is critical that we make decisions based on the best science.”
The discovery of the Columbus variant indicates that the same mutation could be occurring independently in different parts of the world, according to Wexner Medical Center.
“Viruses naturally mutate and evolve over time, but the changes seen in the last two months have been more prominent than in the first months of the pandemic,” Jones said.