Covid: New variant found ‘due to hard work of UK scientists’

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Covid: New variant found ‘due to hard work of UK scientists’

Messaggioda sara7763 » 23/12/2020, 7:21

Covid: New variant found ‘due to hard work of UK scientists’

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A new variant of the virus causing Covid-19, first spotted in Kent, could already be circulating - or have originated from - outside the UK.

But it was spotted here because of the strength of the UK's surveillance system, scientists have said.

The Covid-19 Genomics Consortium (Cog-UK) has tracked the genetic history of more than 150,000 samples of Sars-Cov-2 virus.

That equates to about half the world's genetic sequencing of coronavirus.

Prof Sharon Peacock, head of Cog-UK, said the UK's high level of genomic surveillance meant "if you're going to find something anywhere, you're going to find
it probably here first".

The virus's genetic code is its instruction manual telling it how to operate.

As it replicates, small mistakes or changes get introduced. The useful ones are likely to help the virus spread more quickly from person to person,
and so become more common.

Sequencing the virus's genome allows scientists to see how it is changing as it subtly mutates over time, and to uncover how outbreaks spread, by looking
at clusters of a particular variant of the virus.

This kind of genetic detective work allowed scientists to work out that the UK's early outbreak in the spring was coming mainly from Europe rather
than China, based on the variants that were circulating.

Is it only in the UK?
At the moment, we don't know who the "index case" was - the person from which the mutated version of the virus first emerged.

As a result, we don't know whether the mutation began in Kent or whether it was introduced from elsewhere, Prof Peacock said.

And we don't know whether it has already spread onwards from the UK to other countries.

Prof Tom Connor, who was involved in setting up Covid sequencing in Wales, believes it is "probable" that similar variants are emerging around the world,
but they may not have been detected yet.

"We are sequencing in the UK at a disproportionate rate," he said, insisting the UK has a better surveillance system than other countries.

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