While the number of coronavirus cases continues to pile up, scientists at the Redeemer’s University in Nigeria have turned their attention to resolving whether the virus can mutate in proportions that could become more debilitating to people.
As of 7 September 2020, Nigeria has recorded 55, 160 active coronavirus cases out of 424,186 samples tested, 43,231 people, discharged, and 1061 deaths. The number of daily cases has remained very low in recent times.
The study carried out through genome sequencing has eventually turned up seven lineages unique to Nigeria. According to a statement from the research was undertaken at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State.
The first lineage represents viral sequences from China and global exports including South East Asia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, the US, and Europe.
The second lineage represents a viral sequence from the Italian outbreak. The third represents a new European lineage. The fourth represents sequences from the UK, Iceland, and Turkey.
The fifth represents sequences from the Netherlands, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Finland, and England. The sixth represents a sequence from the Netherlands. The seventh represents sequences from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Finland, and England.
Globally, there is only one strain of SARS-CoV-2, which is also the same as the strain circulating in Nigeria. However, there are more than 1,000 lineages of this novel virus in circulation around the world.
Why is it important?
The idea behind categorising coronavirus or SARS-COV-2 under lineages comes from the mutative nature of all viruses.
In most cases, mutations have no functional consequences for the virus. In other words, the mutations do not have an adverse effect on the body it infects. The amino acid change does not make the virus able to cause disease (not pathogenic), more or less transmissible (contagious), or more or less disease-causing (virulent).
Mutations often lead to a new ‘lineage’ of the virus. This is different from a new strain. The Nigerian scientists, however, noted that any mutation that changes the level of disease – like make the virus more dangerous to the human body, transmission becomes a new strain.
“A mutation in SARS-CoV-2 could confer an advantage to the virus. For instance, a virus with an advantageous mutation could affect humans more readily, thereby spreading more easily between people; it could be less recognised by the immune system or more pathogenic,” the scientist said.
Tracking these lineages can be very useful for determining how a virus spreads through communities or populations.
The scientists who have been tracking these developments in Nigeria and elsewhere say there is a trend in the increase in the number of this protein mutation in Nigeria.
This also has implications for the effectiveness of the vaccine. In their report, the scientists said that a mutation that occurs in the region of the virus that was used to develop the vaccine could mean the vaccine will not be effective. And anytime this happens, the existing vaccine would have to be replaced with a much-improved one. This is why flu vaccines keep changing because the virus keeps mutating into a new strain. The virus mutates so that the previous vaccine no longer provides an effective immune response to the new strain of the same influenza virus.
“We do not know much about SARS-CoV-2 yet. And we don’t know if the virus will mutate into a new strain down the line. If it does happen, it could require the development of a new vaccine.
Nothing can be done to prevent viruses from mutating. They do so naturally as a survival strategy. These mutations happen when the virus makes an error when its DNA or RNA is being replicated, or due to selective pressure,” the scientists said.