India’s leading virologists have called for better genome sequencing after it was confirmed that a further mutation has been detected in the already “more transmissible” Delta variant.
The Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, was first identified in India and responsible for the surge in cases and deaths during the country’s second wave. It is now also the dominant strain in the UK with up to 91 per cent of new infections, and experts say it is rising in prominence in the US too.
Dr Vinod Scaria, a Delhi-based scientist with CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), said that the new mutation is in the spike protein of Sars-Cov-2, which enables the virus to enter and infect human cells. “Understanding this continued evolution is of great importance in mapping the evolutionary landscape of emerging variants. Largely, the virus has tried to optimise for transmission and immune escape by step-wise acquisition of new mutations,” he said in a tweet. He said one important point to consider is that the K417N mutation has shown resistance to newly developed monoclonal antibody treatment drugs, Casirivimab and Imdevimab.
Speaking to The Independent, epidemiologist and public health expert Chandrakant Lahariya said the emergence of “Delta plus” and other new variants showed the need for regular genome sequencing to keep track of how the Covid virus is progressing.
Virologist Shahid Jameel told The Hindu: “It has all the mutations that make up the Delta variant, along with an additional concerning one [from] the South African variant. “It is indeed a matter of concern, and we should be sequencing more to identify how widely prevalent it is in India.”
Director of CSIR-IGIB Anurag Agrawal said that the new variant was “just something to keep track of” and that, for now, it should not cause excessive concern.