Variant hunters race to seek out new strains the place variant testing lags

Variant hunters race to find new strains where variant testing lags

Enlarge (credit score: Marina Dekhnik | Getty Pictures)

In mid-February, three vacationers have been stopped on the airport in Luanda, Angola. Even through the pandemic, the nation, a hub for the oil business, had seen loads of passengers from Europe and South Africa, the place two regarding variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 maintain sway. However the strains weren’t but circulating broadly in Angola, so this winter, well being officers battened down the hatches. Earlier than any passports get stamped, vacationers obtain a speedy antigen check and wait 30 minutes for a end result. A unfavorable check means self-quarantine, adopted by one other check just a few days later. A optimistic check means a two-week keep at a quarantine resort. For the three vacationers, it was possibility two.

A couple of weeks later, samples taken from their noses arrived 2,000 miles south in South Africa, on the lab of Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist on the College of KwaZulu-Natal. He was in for a shock. The virus that had contaminated these three vacationers didn’t resemble the strains circulating in most different locations, together with these labeled as “variants of concern” for his or her capability to unfold sooner and evade sure sorts of immunity. If these variants are like siblings, this one was extra like a forgotten second cousin. It got here from a lineage of the virus that emerged within the early days of the pandemic however had disappeared quickly thereafter, apparently outcompeted by different variants. And but right here it was, a 12 months later. And it had been busy. The virus had since gathered dozens of mutations, together with lots of the identical ones that made these different strains worrisome due to elevated transmissibility and immune evasion. It had arrived at an identical genetic conclusion all by itself.

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