SIU research team reports discovery of new, dominant COVID-19 variant in U.S.

SIU research team discovers new, dominant COVID-19 variant in U.S.

CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - Southern Illinois University Carbondale announced a research team at the university has discovered a new variant of the COVID-19 virus that is “specific to and dominant in the United States.”

The research team says this new variant, referred to as 20C-US, accounts for about half of the cases in the country and might be more easily spread than other strains.

Keith Gagnon, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at SIU, said work in his lab traced the U.S. variant to Texas and found it first appeared in May.

“It’s here. We found it,” said Gagnon. “It’s definitely home-grown and widespread, and we’re the first to characterize it.”

Details of the discovery was submitted in an article on January, 11 to to BioRxiv, a server that quickly shares what researchers are finding as it undergoes peer review.

In the article Gagnon stated that the U.S. variant has acquired two new mutations, showing it is evolving.

“We predict that 20C-US may already be the most dominant variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S.,” the article states. “The ongoing evolution of 20C-US, as well as other dominant region-specific variants emerging around the world, should continue to be monitored with genomic, epidemiologic, and experimental studies to understand viral evolution and predict future outcomes of the pandemic.”

Gagnon said the rise of the U.S. variant happened the same time as the second and third resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the nation.

When asked if the current COVID-19 vaccinations were effective against this new variant, Gagnon stated it’s not clear.

“It’s a great question,” Gagnon said. “Based on the mutations so far, I don’t think it will significantly impact the vaccine’s effectiveness. The catch is that the virus continues to evolve, and since May, it has acquired three mutations, and two of them are in the spike protein, one of which might affect antibody binding. There are a lot of unknowns.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said scientists are also tracking several new variants which include one that developed in the United Kingdom and another one in South Africa, but stated last week it had not seen a highly contagious new U.S. variant.

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