The international community is seeing the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, scientists raise alarm as omicron variant keeps on mutating.
Covid-19 kept on mutating over the years. And the WHO named the new variants depending on the extent of damage it can cause. However, the WHO is yet to name the newest omicron variant of Covid-19 as soon as it displays considerable effects on humans.
Many in the scientific community now raise the question of whether the Covid-19 variant evolution started to recede. Others may say yes. However, immunologists, biologists, and virologists think otherwise.
“SARS-CoV-2 is continuing to evolve extremely rapidly. There’s no evidence that the evolution is slowing down,” said a biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Trevor Bedford.
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The omicron variant
Scientists named several virus variants since it afflicted the world three years ago. This includes alpha, beta, and gamma variants, among others. However, the omicron variant dwarfs the evolutionary capability of the aforementioned Covid-19 forms. Scientists studied the more potent form of the virus and discovered that it shows no signs of receding. In fact, the omicron branched out into other subvariants.
“The children of omicron — so the many direct children and cousins within the diverse omicron family. But that same family (dominates other variants),” explained Emma Hodcroft, an epidemiologist from the University of Bern.
“We seem to be seeing evidence of widescale convergent evolution for the first time. We have what people are calling a swarm of omicron viruses. They have different ancestries within omicron, but which have the same set of mutations,” added Manon Ragonnet-Cronin of the University of Chicago.
What presents a worse condition for the evolution the variant goes through is its capacity to overtake the immunity the people got from the vaccines they received.
“When you see convergence in evolution, that’s evolution’s way of saying, ‘this mutation is repeatedly getting selected over and over again because it’s really helpful,'” said Jesse Bloom, a biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.
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A better outlook
Experts hope for a better outcome for the continued evolution of the omicron variant. They surmise that omicron might take the course of becoming like the usual flu, with its effects not making it more lethal than what it is now.
“The fact that we’ve perhaps stepped out of a phase [in the pandemic] where we’re getting completely new viruses from different parts of the tree sweeping in and dominating might be a sign that we’re moving towards a more kind of stable future for the virus,” Hodcroft added.
However, scientists maintain a close watch due to the unpredictability of viruses. For instance, experts are still determining whether a new, more lethal variant will emerge from the current ones.
“We are dealing with a completely novel virus here. And we don’t know how many other paths this particular virus might have. We don’t know at this stage,” said Kristian Andersen from Scripps Research.
“I guarantee you that there are people who have been persistently infected with delta and alpha who have some weird combinations of mutations. And I’m fully prepared for a delta-based or alpha-based omicron-like event where one of those zombie viruses that’s been cooking away within someone emerges,” concluded Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona.
Photo Credit: DW