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Scientists Say a Now-Dominant Strain of the Coronavirus Appears to Be More Contagious Than Original via Los Angeles Times

By Ralph Vartabedian

[…]

The new strain appeared in February in Europe, migrated quickly to the East Coast of the United States and has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March, the scientists wrote. 

In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned.

[…]

The Los Alamos team, assisted by scientists at Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England, identified 14 mutations. Those mutations occurred among the nearly 30,000 base pairs of RNA that other scientists say make up the coronavirus’s genome. The report authors focused on a mutation called D614G, which is responsible for the change in the virus’ spikes.

“The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form,” study leader Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos, wrote on her Facebook page. “When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible.”

While the Los Alamos report is highly technical and dispassionate, Korber expressed some deep personal feelings about the implications of the finding in her Facebook post. 

“This is hard news,” wrote Korber, “but please don’t only be disheartened by it. Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can.”

Korber, a graduate of Cal State Long Beach who went on to earn a PhD in chemistry at Caltech, joined the lab in 1990 and focused much of her work on an HIV vaccine. In 2004, she won the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the U.S. Department of Energy’s highest recognition for scientific achievement. She contributed a portion of the financial prize to help establish an orphanage for young AIDS victims in South Africa. 

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