In recent weeks, occasional breathtaking reports have warned that the new coronavirus is changing or that there are several strains of the virus circulating around the world. It sounds worrisome. If the virus evolves, it could imply that it is getting worse – but it is not. While it is true that the virus mutates, it does not mean that it becomes more dangerous.
When the virus first emerged in Wuhan, China, its genome had a certain sequence of around 30,000 nucleotides, the building blocks of genetic material. A handful of these nucleotides have changed as the virus has spread from person to person, as the virus’s reproductive mechanism sometimes makes mistakes. But these changes have not made the virus behave differently, say scientists.
In the last Edge Science video, we explore how mutations happen, what they mean for coronavirus and how scientists use them to track COVID-19 worldwide.