Coronavirus mutates: five out of six subtypes are now more infectious

The model developed by lead researcher Guovei Wei, professor of the Department of Mathematics, Biochemistry and

molecular biology, analyzedgenotyping SARS-CoV-2 from more than 20,000 viral genome samples. The researchers also looked at mutations in the spike protein - a protein primarily responsible for spreading infection - and found that five of the six known subtypes of the virus are now more infectious.

As with any virus, many mutations inultimately benign with little or no risk to infected patients. Some mutations even reduce infectivity. But some of them make the virus more contagious.

Wei and his team spent several months studying and analyzing the patterns and sites of mutations, tracking changes from the official sample of the viral genome obtained in January.

Knowledge of the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 isvital to prevent COVID-19 and restore the global economy. The key question is what are the implications of these mutations for the transmission, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Guovei Wei, Professor of the Department of Mathematics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

A viral infection occurs when a spikethe protein interacts with a human host cell receptor, angiotensin converting enzyme 2, abbreviated ACE2. Concerning ACE2, scientists are concerned about a concept known as binding affinity, or the strength of the binding interaction between the spike protein and the host receptor in the early stages of infection.

The infectivity of the virus increases ifthe binding affinity increases. More than 50 mutations have now been found, as well as a binding interface on the receptor-binding domain of spiked proteins - RBD for short, which has 194 possible mutation sites, the researcher explains.

Wei's Machine Learning Model, AdvancedThe neural network analyzed over 8,000 records of protein interactions to determine the effect of current known mutations on the binding affinity of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The result, which suggested increased binding affinity in five of the six known subtypes, indicated that infectivity could have increased as a result of mutations.

Concerned about the possibility of further mutation, Wei and his team turned to their model of the future.

It is extremely important to know if the futuresubtypes of SARS-CoV-2 pose an imminent threat to public health. To this end, we performed a systematic screening of all possible 3,686 future mutations at 194 sites of possible mutations along the RBD.

Guovei Wei, Professor of the Department of Mathematics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Wei's model predicts that multiple residues in the receptor binding motif - a component of the RBD region - have a high chance of mutating into more infectious COVID-19 strains.

He warns that although forecasts basedon artificial intelligence are consistent with the available experimental data, further research is needed to fully understand the effect of mutations on the infectivity of COVID-19.

As part of their research, Wei and his teamThe new coronavirus, which is spreading around the world, is also predicted to be slightly more infectious than the original SARS virus discovered in 2003.

Wei stated that the results are the same asthe results of another experiment recently published by scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida. This study examined protein spike mutations in vitro and found that the virus mutated in such a way that its infectiousness increased.

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