Lucio Miele, MD, PhD, Says New Study Shows Mutated SARS-CoV-2 More Infectious
Leslie Capo, Director of Information Services
Lucio Miele, MD, PhD, Professor and Head of Genetics at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, says the mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2 now circulating in the United States may be a “new and improved” virus that is better at infecting human cells than the original strain from Wuhan, China. His assessment is based on a new study from the Scripps Research Institute reporting that a previously discovered mutation in the virus spike protein gene makes it more stable and abundant. Spike proteins are how the virus invades human cells. They bind to receptor cells, allowing the viral membrane to fuse with the human cell membrane and provide entry for the viral material into the cell.
Dr. Miele, who is a molecular geneticist, notes this has several important implications. “It explains, at least in part, why Europe and the U.S. are having a much harder time containing transmission. The virus here is much more infectious.”
He adds, “It suggests that just letting the virus spread freely hoping for ‘herd immunity' to develop is more dangerous than had been thought. Infected cells become virus factories, producing more and more virus. The more viruses are made, the higher the likelihood of NEW mutations that make the virus even better at spreading, or resistant to treatment.”
Miele concludes, “It means that just detecting the virus isn't enough. We have to actually sequence the viral genome to figure out how it's changing.”
This information will be important for the development of vaccines and potential treatments, as well as containment.