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‘Significant’ coronavirus mutation discovered, could make vaccine search ‘futile,’ study says

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Researchers have discovered what they described as a “significant” mutation of the novel coronavirus, which they believe “raises the alarm” that the search for a vaccine could become “futile” down the line.

The study, published on the biorxiv.org repository, notes researchers were able to analyze a sample of SARS-CoV-2 from India on January 27 and found a mutation that “leads to weaker receptor binding capability.” The receptor, known as ACE2, is an enzyme in a person’s lungs.

“The discrepant phylogenies for the spike protein and its receptor binding domain proved a previously reported structural rearrangement prior to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2,” researchers wrote in the study. “Despite that we found, the spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 is particularly more conserved, we identified a mutation that leads to weaker receptor binding capability, which concerns a SARS-CoV-2 sample collected on 27th 26 January 2020 from India. This represents the first report of a significant SARS-CoV-2 mutant, and raises the alarm that the ongoing vaccine development may become futile in future epidemic if more mutations were identified.”

CORONAVIRUS HAS ‘STABLE GENOME,’ STUDY SUGGESTS, SO VACCINE COULD HELP ‘OVER MANY YEARS’

The research has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Despite the ominous discovery, the researchers were also able to discover that SARS-CoV-2 “has a much lower mutation rate and genetic diversity” than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which appeared in China in 2002.

The researchers also discovered “the spike (S) protein encoding gene of SARS-COV-2 is found relatively more conserved than other protein-encoding genes, which is a good indication for the ongoing antiviral drug and vaccine development.”

A separate study conducted by researchers in Italy published last month found that the virus is slow to mutate, based on its genetic material. This could aid in helping large swaths of people over an extended period of time once a specific cure is found.

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Currently, there is no known specific medicine to treat the novel coronavirus.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 2 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, including more than 610,000 in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.

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