The spike protein mutation found in the Brazilian, South African and UK variants of COVID-19 make the virus eight times more infectious than the Wuhan original
The D614G mutation in the spike protein, aka the “G variant”, appears to have evolved in early 2020. It is currently the most dominant form of the virus across several countries, as this spike mutation makes it harder for the human body to fight back.
Researchers are looking to understand if these mutations make the virus more deadly, and to define how much more infectious they make COVID-19.
Many vaccines are taking a hit to their impact, because the virus is evolving better protection mechanisms against them.
Comparing the spike mutation to the original virus
To find answers, the team at New York University, the New York Genome Center, and Mount Sinai, put the the D614G mutation into human lung, liver and colon cells. They also used the Wuhan version of the virus (also known as the “wild type”) to make a clear comparison.
They found that the spike mutation definitely increased transmissibility, even eight times over the original version of COVID-19. This gave the virus a stronger build, which was harder for the human body to split up with other proteins.
The team suggest that a booster shot will have to be created to handle continuing mutations, and properly protect populations.
“The research comprising this work is essential to understanding changes in biology that a given viral variant might demonstrate,” said co-senior author Benjamin tenOever, Fishberg Professor of Medicine, Icahn Scholar and Professor of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“We are presently now moving forward with similar studies to study the variants that have arisen in the UK, Brazil, and in South Africa”.
‘Our experimental data was pretty unambiguous’
Zharko Daniloski, a postdoctoral fellow in Sanjana’s lab at NYU and the New York Genome Center and the study’s co-first author, commented: “Going into this project we didn’t really know if D614G mutation would have any functional effects, as its wide spread could be due to a founder effect, where a variant becomes dominant because a small number of individuals spread it widely by chance.
“However, our experimental data was pretty unambiguous – the D614G variant infects human cells much more efficiently than the wild type.”
Currently, the spike mutation is not linked to a more severe form of COVID or increased hospitalisation.
‘The importance of the D614G mutation has grown’
“In the months since we initially conducted this study, the importance of the D614G mutation has grown: the mutation has reached near universal prevalence and is included in all current variants of concern,” said Neville Sanjana, assistant professor of biology at NYU, assistant professor of neuroscience and physiology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Core Faculty Member at the New York Genome Center.
“Confirming that the mutation leads to more transmissibility may help explain, in part, why the virus has spread so rapidly over the past year.”