Ohio researchers establish two variants that doubtless originated within the US

Healthcare workers conduct free Covid-19 tests for people in their cars in the parking lot of the Columbus West Family Health and Wellness Center in Columbus, Ohio on November 19, 2020.

Stephen Zenner | AFP | Getty Images

Researchers in Ohio said Wednesday they discovered two new variants of the coronavirus that likely originated in the United States – one of which quickly became the dominant strain in Columbus, Ohio over a three-week period in late December and early January.

Like the strain first detected in the UK, the US mutations appear to make Covid-19 more contagious, but they don’t appear to affect the vaccines’ effectiveness, the researchers said.

Ohio State University researchers have not yet released their full results, but say an unverified study is in the pipeline. Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement to CNBC that the agency is considering the new research.

One of the new strains, found in only one patient in Ohio, contains a mutation that is identical to the now dominant variant in the UK. Researchers noted that it “likely appeared in a strain of the virus that is already present in the US”. However, the “Columbus strain,” which researchers said in a press release has become dominant in the city, includes “three more gene mutations not previously seen together in SARS-CoV2.”

“This new strain of Columbus has the same genetic backbone as previous cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said Dr. Dan Jones, vice chairman of the division of molecular pathology at Ohio State and lead author on the study, said in a statement. “We know that shift didn’t come from the UK or South African branches of the virus.”

One of the mutations found in Columbus – COH.20G / 501Y – “may appear independently in several parts of the world in recent months,” the researchers said.

Peter Mohler, chief scientist at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio, United States and co-author of the upcoming study, said there was no data to suggest the new strain would affect vaccine effectiveness.

“It is important that we do not overreact to this new variant until we receive additional data,” he said in a statement. “We need to understand the effects of mutations on the transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population, and the effects on human health.

The Coronavirus Task Force of the White House warned states earlier this month that a “United States variant” may be in circulation. The hypothesis reported by the New York Times was supported by the task force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, erected. It was based on how severe the US outbreak has become in recent months. The CDC said in a statement last week that it has yet to discover a new variant in the US that has nothing to do with strains that have already been discovered.

This story evolves. You can find updates here.

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