Omicron variant may have picked up a piece of common-cold virus | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Omicron variant may have picked up a piece of common-cold virus

Agencies | Cambridge

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

The Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 likely acquired at least one of its mutations by picking up a snippet of genetic material from another virus - possibly one that causes the common cold - present in the same infected cells, according to researchers.

This genetic sequence does not appear in any earlier versions of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, but is ubiquitous in many other viruses including those that cause the common cold, and also in the human genome, researchers said.

By inserting this particular snippet into itself, Omicron might be making itself look “more human,” which would help it evade attack by the human immune system, said Venky Soundararajan of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based data analytics firm reference, who led the study posted on Thursday on the website OSF Preprints. This could mean the virus transmits more easily, while only causing mild or asymptomatic disease.

Scientists do not yet know whether Omicron is more infectious than other variants, whether it causes more severe disease or whether it will overtake Delta as the most prevalent variant. It may take several weeks to get answers to these questions.

Cells in the lungs and in the gastrointestinal system can harbour SARS-CoV-2 and common-cold coronaviruses simultaneously, according to earlier studies.

Such co-infection sets the scene for viral recombination, a process in which two different viruses in the same host cell interact while making copies of themselves, generating new copies that have some genetic material from both “parents.”

This new mutation could have first occurred in a person infected with both pathogens when a version of SARS-CoV-2 picked up the genetic sequence from the other virus, Soundararajan and colleagues said in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

In the meantime, Soundararajan said, the new findings underscore the importance of people getting the currently available COVID-19 vaccines. “You have to vaccinate to reduce the odds that other people, who are immunocompromised, will encounter the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Soundararajan said.