The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) recently detected a new “double mutant” variant of the COVID-19 causing coronavirus in the nation. Officials are checking if the new variant, where two mutations rise together in the same virus, maybe more infectious or less affected by vaccines.
Analysis of samples from western Maharashtra showed an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations compared to December 2020. These mutations which may confer immune escape and increased infectivity were found in 15-20 percent samples, as per a statement.
E484Q mutation is known to be similar to E484K – a mutation seen in the B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1 (Brazil) variants, which have emerged independently several times. While the L452R mutation which is also found in the “double mutation” was first identified as part of B.1.427/B.1.429 lineage in the US, which is also called the “California variant”.
When enough mutations happen in a viral lineage, the virus can begin to function differently and the lineage can become a so-called ‘variant of concern’. From a total of 10,787 COVID-19 positive samples across the country, INSACOG detected 771 variants of concerns (VOCs). Among these VOCs, 736 samples were positive for the UK variant of the novel coronavirus lineage; 34 samples were positive for the South African (B.1.351) virus lineage; and one sample was positive for the Brazilian (P.1) virus lineage, according to the union ministry of health and family welfare (MoH&FW).
In Kerala, over 123 samples out of 2,032 across all districts showed the N440K variant. The N440K variant was earlier found in 33 percent samples from Andhra Pradesh, and in 53 of 104 samples from Telangana; and has also been reported from 16 other countries including Australia, Denmark, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
Double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system, say, researchers. “There may be a separate lineage developing in India with the L452R and E484Q mutations coming together,” told Virologist Dr Shahid Jameel to BBC.
Once the researchers upload their data to GISAID- a global science initiative and primary source for open-access to genomic data of influenza and coronavirus, scientists from around the world will be able to determine whether the “double mutant” is the same lineage as the one found in the UK, or whether this combination of mutations independently emerged, as was the case for the K417N/T, E484K, and N501Y trifecta of mutations that came together in Brazil and South Africa to give rise to their strains, P.1 and B.1.351.
Notably, these new mutations call for states and UTs to undertake epidemiological and public health response of increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts, and treatment, as per the National Treatment Protocol.
The health ministry said that though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states.