Fasten your seatbelts, readers. Researchers have discovered another mutation – this time, it is one that is unique to “the New York region.”
The researchers write in the abstract of an article published Feb. 15 online as a preprint, not yet peer reviewed, that they “detected an emerging lineage of viral isolates in the New York region that shares mutations with previously reported variants.”
The “SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.526” emerging in the New York region was detected by a software utility “created to query the spike mutational landscape,” wrote researchers Anthony P. West, Jr., Christopher O. Barnes, Zhi Yang and Pamela J. Bjorkman.
“This lineage appeared in late November 2020, and isolates from this lineage account for ~5% of coronavirus genomes sequenced and deposited from New York during late January 2021.”
There are seven “common sets of spike mutations in this lineage” (now designated as B.1.526), among which one is the dreaded E484K mutation, first identified in the South African variant (B.1.351), also found in the UK variant (B.1.1.7) and recently in the Brazilian variant (P.1) as well.
The E484K mutation is not a variant in and of itself; it is a mutation in the spike protein found in the different variants. It appears to have an impact on the body’s immune response and possibly – maybe even likely – on the efficacy of various vaccines as well by changing the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells.
It can be harder for the human immune system to recognize and fight the virus, if the body has been trained to fight the virus from earlier vaccines. E484K is called an “escape mutation” because it’s been demonstrated that it might be able to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine, according to Australia’s 9News outlet.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus makes around one or two mutations a month. This sounds quite a low number, and is in fact lower than for other viruses, including influenza. The more the virus circulates, however, the more opportunity it has to change, according to The BMJ healthcare professional website. Anything that can be done to suppress spread of the virus will help to limit new variants emerging, including distancing, mask wearing, and handwashing.
“E484K is known to attenuate neutralization of multiple anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, particularly those found in Class 2 (Gaebler et al., 2021), and is present in variants B.1.351 (Tegally et al., 2020) and P.1/B.1.1.248 (Faria et al., 2021), (2) D253G has been reported as an escape mutation from antibodies against the N-terminal domain (McCallum et al., 2021),” the researchers noted in the article. “The overall pattern of mutations in this cluster suggests it arose in part in response to selective pressure from antibodies.
“Based on the dates of collection of these isolates, it appears that the frequency of these isolates is increasing,” the scientists added.