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Recently, scientists have reported that hybrids of Omicron and delta coronavirus variants have emerged in several European countries. This is what is known so far about Deltamicron or Deltacron’s Frankenstein-nicknamed hybrids.

In February, Scott Nguyen, a scientist at the Institute of Public Health in Washington, DC, found something strange while examining GISAID, an international database of coronavirus genomes.

He found in a sample collected in France in January that researchers identified it as a mixture of delta and omicron variants. In rare cases, two coronavirus variants can be infected at the same time. However, when Dr. Nguyen scrutinized the data, he found a hint. This conclusion was wrong.

Instead, it appeared to Dr. Nguyen as if each virus in the sample actually had a combination of genes from the two variants. Scientists call such viruses recombinants. When Dr. Nguyen looked for mutations of the same pattern, he was in the Netherlands and Denmark. “It made me wonder if these might be real,” he said in an interview.

Dr. Nguyen shared his findings on an online forum called cov-lineages. There, scientists help each other to track new variants. These collaborations are essential to reaffirm the potential new variants. A swordsman resulting from incomplete laboratory work.

“There is a lot of evidence needed to show that it is genuine,” said Dr. Nguyen.

Dr. Nguyen turned out to be right.

In an interview, Etienne Simon Lorière, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said, “That day we rushed to reaffirm what he doubted. And yeah, we Immediately confirmed that it was the case. “

Since then, Dr. Simon Loriere and his colleagues have discovered more samples of the recombinant virus, eventually obtaining frozen samples, and succeeded in propagating new recombinants in the laboratory currently under study. On March 8th, the researchers posted. The first genome of the recombinant on GISAID.

Where did you find the new hybrid?

With an update on March 10, the International Database of Virus Sequences reported samples of 33 new variants in France, 8 in Denmark, 1 in Germany and 1 in the Netherlands.

As Reuters first reported, gene sequencing company Helix has found two cases in the United States. Dr. Nguyen said he and his colleagues are looking up several database sequences in the United States to find more cases.

Is it dangerous?

The idea of ​​a hybrid of Delta and Omicron may be curious, but there are many reasons not to panic.

“This is not a new concern,” said Dr. Simon Lorière.

For one thing, recombinants are extremely rare and have been present since at least January, but their ability to grow exponentially has not yet been demonstrated.

Dr. Simon-Loriere also said that the recombinant mutant genome also suggests that it does not represent a new stage of the pandemic. The gene that encodes the surface protein of the virus (known as spike) is almost entirely derived from Omicron. The genome is delta.

Peplomers are the most important part of the virus with respect to invading cells. It is also the main target for antibodies produced by infections and vaccines. Therefore, the defenses that people have gained against Omicron through infection, vaccines, or both will work as well against new recombinants.

“The surface of the virus is so similar to Omicron that the body recognizes it as it does,” said Dr. Simon Lorière.

Scientists also believe that Omicron’s characteristic spikes are partly involved in the low likelihood of causing severe illness. This variant uses Omicron to successfully invade cells in the nose and upper respiratory tract, but not so well in the deep lungs. Recombinants may show the same tendency.

Dr. Simon-Loriere and other researchers are conducting experiments to see how the new recombinants work in the cell dish. Experiments with hamsters and mice provide more clues. However, these experiments do not provide insight for weeks.

“It’s so fresh that we haven’t got any results,” said Dr. Simon Lorière.

Where does the recombinant virus come from?

You can be infected with two versions of the coronavirus at once. For example, if you go to a crowded bar where multiple people are infected, you may inhale the virus from multiple people.

Two viruses can invade the same cell at the same time. As the cells begin to produce new viruses, new genetic material can mix and produce new hybrid viruses.

Recombination of coronaviruses is probably not uncommon, but most of these gene shuffles are evolutionary dead ends. Viruses with a mixture of genes can be as unsuccessful as their ancestors.

Do we really call it Deltacron?

For now, some scientists call the new hybrid the AY.4 / BA.1 recombinant, which will probably change in the coming weeks.

A coalition of scientists has devised a system for officially naming new strains of coronavirus. They give recombinant viruses a two-letter abbreviation that begins with an X. For example, XA is a hybrid that arose from a mixture of alphas in December 2020. A variant of the coronavirus called B.1.177 and another strain.

Dr. Nguyen’s new recombinant may be called XD.

However, on March 8, this process was confused when a second team of French researchers posted their own analysis of the same recombinant online. Like Dr. Simon-Loriere and his colleagues, they isolated the virus. Studies not yet published in scientific journals called it Deltamicron.

Dr. Nguyen criticized the team for not trusting Dr. Simon Lorière’s team for first sharing the first recombinant viral genome. He also criticized scientists for unleashing the strange nickname of the recombinant, which was quickly picked up in a news article. Social media posts Claim it is a hoax or created in the lab.

“These unconventional names stir up the nest of wasp conspiracy theories,” said Dr. Nguyen.

I’m still not sure how well the name XD has taken hold.

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