Omicron variant has 37 spike protein mutations: Canadian study | World News - Hindustan Times
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Omicron variant has 37 spike protein mutations: Canadian study

Dec 23, 2021 04:24 PM IST

The study conducted a near atomic resolution analysis of the variant using a cryo-electron microscope

Canadian researchers on Wednesday revealed, what they say, is the first molecular structural analysis of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the country which has shown that it has three to five times more mutations in its spike protein than any previous variant.

People queue up for their Covid-19 vaccine booster shots at a clinic inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, as the latest Omicron variant emerges as a threat, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (REUTERS)
People queue up for their Covid-19 vaccine booster shots at a clinic inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, as the latest Omicron variant emerges as a threat, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (REUTERS)

A near atomic resolution analysis of the variant using a cryo-electron microscope, “reveals how the heavily mutated variant infects human cells and is highly evasive of immunity,” the Canadian researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), which conducted the study, said.

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Dr Subramaniam, a professor in the faculty of medicine’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology who led the study, described Omicron having 37 spike protein mutations as “unprecedented”.

“This is important for two reasons. Firstly, because the spike protein is how the virus attaches to and infects human cells. Secondly, because antibodies attach to the spike protein in order to neutralize the virus. Therefore, small mutations on the spike protein have potentially big implications for how the virus is transmitted, how our body fights it off, and the effectiveness of treatments,” he said.

The pre-publication study at bioRxiv noted the Delta variant had seven mutations in the spike protein and had only two in common with Omicron. “Analysis of the sequence of the Omicron genome suggests that it is not derived from any of the currently circulating variants, and may have a different origin,” the Canadian study stated.

“Our experiments confirm what we’re seeing in the real world — that the Omicron spike protein is far better than other variants at evading monoclonal antibodies that are commonly used as treatments, as well as at evading the immunity produced by both vaccines and natural infection,” Dr Subramanian said. It was, however, less evasive of immunity created by vaccines than that produced through natural infection.

“Sera from convalescent patients shows an even greater drop in neutralization potency relative to the Delta variant (8.2x decrease) while the vaccinated group also shows reduction in potency, although to a lesser extent (3.4x decrease),” the study said.

This point was also stressed upon by Dr Subramaniam, as he said, “This suggests that vaccination remains our best defence against the Omicron variant.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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