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Despite trendy new theory, we don’t actually know if the coronavirus has mutated

The Los Angeles Times published a story on May 5 reporting that some researchers are claiming that the coronavirus has already mutated into a new, more dangerous strain. But other researchers are disputing the claims, saying it is unlikely there are two strains of the virus.

A study by Los Alamos National Laboratory, cited by the Los Angeles Times, found a mutation in COVID-19, known as D614G, that changes the protein’s shape. The mutated form of COVID-19 became predominant in Europe, Australia, and North America. But many scientists agree there isn’t enough evidence in the Los Alamos study to prove the mutation resulted in a different strain of COVID-19.

Though COVID-19 has developed mutations, it is unlikely it has changed enough to be considered a new strain. Viruses “copy” themselves when they spread and commonly form mutations. Mutations are random and neither good nor bad.

Mutating into a different strain, however, means the virus has changed so much it no longer “acts” like the original virus. Different strains of the same disease often respond differently to vaccines. This is why it is important to find when the virus forms a new strain.

Though researchers at Los Alamos posited the D614G mutation could have helped COVID-19 spread faster and further, researchers at Arizona State University came to the opposite conclusion in a separate study. So for now, scientists generally agree there is only one strain of COVID-19, and mutations have not yet made the virus more contagious, dangerous, or resistant to treatment.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, ABC News, American Association for the Advancement of Science


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