According to the study, a novel version of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been found in South Africa and many other places around the world, which could be more transmissible and elude vaccine protection.
Scientists from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) said that the probable variation of interest, C.1.2, was discovered in the country in May of this year. As of August 13, C.1.2 had been discovered in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, England, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.
According to the study, which was posted on the public repository MedRxiv on August 24 and has yet to be peer-reviewed, C.1.2 has altered significantly compared to C.1, one of the lineages that dominated SARS-CoV-2 infections in the initial wave in South Africa.
According to the researchers, the novel variant has more mutations than other variants of concern (VOCs) or variants of interest (VOIs) discovered so far. They emphasized that the number of accessible C.1.2 sequences may be an underrepresentation of the variant’s dissemination and frequency in South Africa and around the world.
The study discovered continuous monthly increases in the amount of C.1.2 genomes sequenced in South Africa, going from 0.2 percent of genomes sequenced in May to 1.6 percent in June and then to 2% in July.
“This is similar to the increases found in the country with the Beta and Delta variants upon early detection,” the study’s authors said.
The C.1.2 lineage, according to the study, has a mutation rate of about 41.8 mutations per year, which is roughly twice as fast as the present global mutation rate of the other variants.
More than half of the C.1.2 sequences had 14 mutations, however, some of the sequences have additional variants. “Though these changes occur in the majority of C.1.2 viruses, there is more variety within this lineage’s spike area, indicating ongoing intra-lineage evolution,” the study’s authors wrote.
Approximately 52% of the mutations in the spike area of the C.1.2 sequences had previously been observed in other VOCs and VOIs. The SARS-CoV-2 virus uses the spike protein to infect and enter human cells, and most vaccines target this area. The mutations N440K and Y449H, which have been linked to immunological escape from specific antibodies, have been found in C.1.2 sequences as well.
“While these changes are not common in current VOCs/VOIs, they have been linked to resistance to specific class 3 neutralizing antibodies,” the investigators stated.
They highlighted that these alterations, along with modifications in other regions of the virus, are likely to let the virus elude antibodies and immunological response, even in patients who have already produced antibodies against the Alpha or Beta forms.
“While the phenotypic traits and epidemiology of C.1.2 are being established,” the authors write, “it is vital to emphasise this lineage given its worrying constellations of mutations.”