The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are fearing the pathogen may be altering to exist more successfully in a human reservoir. After analysing more than 5,300 whole-genome sequences of the new coronavirus from 62 countries the researchers found several mutations that show the virus is “well-adapted” to humans. The team identified a “potentially critical mutation” to the “spike protein” the virus uses to infect human cells.
Professor Martin Hibberd, a senior author of the study, which has not been peer-reviewed and is unpublished, said: “Overall, the virus does not seem to have mutated very much and most strains are relatively similar to each other.
“This suggests that the virus is well adapted to humans and is not changing rapidly.
“However, while the number of genetic variations at this stage of the pandemic were relatively small, we have seen a few that look important to the virus.
“These could have important implications for diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies.”
Currently, 4.1 million have been infected with coronavirus across the world.
Coronavirus may have adapted
The international death toll now stands at over 282,000.
Many of the mutations detected seem to be giving the virus an advantage independently in 62 different countries.
The team behind the study fear the mutations have given the virus an improved ability for human transmission.
Swift adaptations like those detected could make vaccines redundant.
The mutations at this stage are still rare, and more study needs to be done as to how they will affect the coronavirus.
The study stated the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19 most likely evolved from a bat strain of coronavirus.
The study stated it then started infecting humans in December 2019.
Professor Francois Balloux, co-lead author from UCL Genetics Institute, said: “All viruses naturally mutate.
“Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest Sars-Cov-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected.
“So far we cannot say whether Sars-Cov-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious.”
However, he added: “A major challenge to defeating viruses is that a vaccine or drug might no longer be effective if the virus has mutated.
“If we focus our efforts on parts of the virus that are less likely to mutate, we have a better chance of developing drugs that will be effective in the long run.”