Has the coronavirus (COVID-19) been mutating?

DETROIT – Since the start of the outbreak, scientists have known the genetic sequence of COVID-19, but over time, researchers have seen it change, leading to the theory that the coronavirus is mutating.

Update June 26, 2020: Michigan coronavirus cases (COVID-19) up to 62,695, death toll now at 5,888

A virus has two main goals: It needs to infect a cell and hijack it to make copies of itself, so that it can infect other cells and repeat the cycle. While the newly hijacked cell is making parts to build new viruses, it is also copying the virus’ genetic code, and that’s where mutations can occur.

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The RNA genetic code for SARS-CoV-2 is 30,000 base pairs long. After copying it countless times, changes and changes can occur. There is a correcting protein that detects most typographical errors, but some make it through and become a permanent part of the new instruction manual on a newly created virus that spreads. All of these typos are a mutation, a lasting change in the virus. Mutations are so common that we expect them to occur.

PLUS: Confidence index

These mutations generally have no effect on the function of the virus. It would be like changing a word in a book on page 47 from pen to car: it would make no sense and would be largely ignored, but occasionally a change or mutation is important. For example, changing the word “no” to “was” on page 53 changes the meaning of the paragraph, such as changing the structure or function of a protein. That mutation could be a problem if it allows the virus to spread faster, kill more easily, or make it difficult for us to find the evidence we’ve developed, but it could also be a benefit if it damages the virus. This subtle evolution of a virus for a long time can allow you to find a sweet spot where it can spread to the fullest without being so dangerous that it kills its host before it spreads.

Is the coronavirus mutating?

As for the existence of mutation, this is true of the confidence index, but it should be kept in perspective. Fortunately, SARS-CoV-2 appears to change very slowly, and sustained mutations do not occur frequently. In fact, it is estimated that notable new changes occur at a rate of about 2 per month, which is actually quite minimal.

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