By Tony Winterburn • 22 March 2021 • 20:48
Rush To Develop New PCR Tests For Emerging Virus Mutation Found In France. image: Wikipedia
Rush To Develop New PCR Tests For Emerging Virus Mutation Found In France.
Globally, there are three principal variants that scientists know of, they are the UK, South African and Brazilian mutations of Sars-Cov-2, which is the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.
Now, a new strain of Sars-Cov-2 has been discovered in Brittany in western France. Eight cases have been linked to the new variant which seems to be difficult to detect by the current PCR technique in use.
In an interview, Dr Camille Locht of the Institut Pasteur de Lille explained how worrisome the new strain is and how it is able to escape detection by a standard and reliable technique like the PCR.
How worrying is the emergence of the new strain of Sars-Cov-2?
From what is known so far, the strain is still limited in terms of spreading. But what’s annoying, and dangerous, is the fact that it is apparently not detectable by the current PCR method.
It means that people who have this strain might be invisible to detection, staying under the radar i.e. they cannot be traced by the current testing methods. It is therefore extremely difficult to find exactly the number of individuals infected with the new strain.
So even if they may have some symptoms, the PCR test will be negative, supposedly meaning they are not infected. We cannot trace and follow them. There’s no indication that the new strain is more virulent or more infectious than the other strains. It doesn’t mean people are more severely sick. But these are all unknowns for the moment.
Which new testing methods are needed to detect the new strain?
It’s all a bit technical…
It would be wise therefore to develop a new PCR technique to adapt to this particular strain. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction which involves the amplification of the genome of the virus. In this case, Sars-Cov-2 is an RNA virus that is reverse transcribed into DNA and then amplified by using reagents called primers.
The primers are specific to a specific genome sequence. So if there’s a mutation in the sequence that corresponds to these primers, the PCR method just won’t work. Therefore, new PCR methods would have to be developed to target this particular strain- hence the need to develop new testing methods.
What we are seeing with the British, South African and Brazilian strains is that there are mutations in the spike protein which increases the infectivity of the virus. Eventually, there are bound to be other random mutations and these are not unexpected.
New mutations are annoying because they increase virulence, infectivity or they may cause problems for detecting the virus- expect many before when, or even if, the pandemic ever finishes. TW
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