Researchers have discovered the third new variant of the coronavirus in the United States and say it may be the most easily transmitted to date.
A team from Southern Illinois University Carbondale tracked the earliest appearance of a new variant called 20C-US in Texas in May 2020.
The variant carries several mutations, including the spike protein that the virus uses to enter and infect human cells.
Scientists say the variant hasn’t spread significantly beyond state borders, but that’s most common in the upper Midwest.
In addition, the variant makes up almost 50 percent of all genomes sequenced between November 1 and December 30, which means that it is likely to be very widespread.
“We assume that 20C-US is already the most dominant variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the US,” the team wrote in an article before going to press.
“The ongoing development of 20C-US, as well as other dominant region-specific variants emerging worldwide, should continue to be monitored with genomic, epidemiological and experimental studies to understand virus evolution and predict future outcomes of the pandemic.”
20C-US is now one of the growing lists of mutations discovered in countries like the UK, South Africa, and Brazil.
The news comes just a day after Ohio researchers announced the first discovery of two native variants – one virtually identical to a variant that originated in the UK and the other that is completely unique in the US and in the capital, Columbus dominates.
Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have found a third new variant of the coronavirus called 20C-US, which was first discovered in Texas in May 2020. PICTURED: Odessa Regional Medical Center nurse Teresa Armendariz tests a person in western Texas for COVID-19 equine center in Odessa, Texas, Dec. 8
Genome sequencing revealed an increase in the new variant in July 2020 (left) and made up 50% of all US genomes between November 1 and December 31 (right).
Under the direction of Dr. Keith Gagnon, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SIU, first recognized the possibility of the new variant while studying genome sequencing data from Illinois.
“The data jumped off the page as we looked at it and then began to examine national data and later global genome sequence data,” Gagnon said in a press release.
Viral genomes have been sequenced from samples taken from March 2020 to date.
“The data jumped off the page when we looked at it and then began to examine national data and later global genome sequence data,” Gagnon said in a press release.
The team started sequencing viral genomes from samples taken from March 2020 until today. One variant was more pronounced than the other.
To determine if it was present at the national level, the researchers randomly subsampled 3.3 percent of the US genomes available in the GISAID global genome database.
The earliest occurrence was found in a sample taken in the greater Houston area of Texas on May 20, 2020.
Following the variant over time, there was a notable expansion of the variant’s presence in July 2020, coinciding with the second wave of the pandemic in America in states like Wisconsin and Illinois.
However, between November 1 and December 31, almost 50 percent of all sequenced genomes from the United States are the new variant.
The variant has not spread much beyond US borders and is most widespread in the upper Midwest (above).