- Team of researchers from Taiwan and Australia found evidence of a new mutation in the coronavirus
- This could potentially affect current vaccine developments
- However, other experts have yet to peer review the results.
As scientists rush to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, a new study has confirmed a major new mutation in the coronavirus that could make current vaccine developments “futile”.
The research team at National Changhua University of Education in Taiwan and Murdoch University in Australia said that the new mutation in the coronavirus has shown changes in the peak protein that allow the virus to bind to enzymes in lungs.
Scientists have studied this receptor and looked for the right antibodies to counter its effects. However, the unexpected structural change “raises the alarm that ongoing vaccine development may become useless in a future epidemic if more mutations are identified,” the experts wrote in their article on biorxiv.org.
Experts have discovered the new coronavirus mutation in an Indian patient who was sampled in early January. The patient is a medical student who had gone to Wuhan, but the strain was not like any of the Chinese variants.
The research team released the full genome sequence for this sample in March. However, experts also confirmed that the new mutation rate for coronaviruses is slow.
“We have confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 has a relatively low mutation rate, but we have also shown that new mutations with varying virulence and immune characteristics have already appeared,” said the researchers.
The study has not yet been peer reviewed; thus, the team’s findings could still be overturned by other experts.
Benjamin Neuman of Texas A&M University Biological Sciences, who is not part of the study, said that mutations in the virus may require periodic testing and updating of vaccines, such as influenza vaccines.
“The flu virus mutates constantly, and at about the same rate as the coronavirus, but we are able to successfully vaccinate against this moving target,” said Neuman.
Immunology lecturer Jenna Macciochi, who works for the University of Sussex, also said that current vaccine developments are not necessarily affected by the discovered mutation.
“You would expect small mutations with any virus,” said Macciochi. “The mutation in this report appears to reduce binding to ACE2, which means less virulence, which could potentially mean less ability to infect. “