The virus is mutating faster in Bengaluru: IISc study


Should we panic? Doctors say don’t worry about mutation but mask up

A study conducted by researchers in the month of July-August last year at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has found that the mutation of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19, is faster now than before, especially in Bengaluru. And, the rate of mutation is higher than the national and global average.

As we consumed the news, we called up our experts who have made sense of the virus for us over the last one year. Should we hit the panic button? But first, we had to understand mutation.


What is mutation ?

Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, head of department pulmonology, Manipal Hospital, explained it in this way: “Mutation is a bunch of amino acids in a particular sequence. Nature may rearrange the genetic material in such a way that a sequence is slightly different. If one amino acid is different we call it point mutation, if 10 amino acids are deleted we call it framed mutations. There can be addition of a protein block or total deletion of a protein block, or a new protein appearing. So these changes are very essential in the realm of biology.

Survival of any animal or any species depends upon how much mutation takes place. If there was no mutation then men would have still been apes. (Even though I strongly suspect some of them have not mutated.)”

The IISc study published in the Journal of Proteome Research, was led by Utpal Tatu, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry. The viral samples for study were recovered from nasal secretions of consenting covid-19 positive individuals in Bengaluru.

“His team’s analysis suggests that the virus is now mutating faster than before – the three Bengaluru isolates had 27 mutations in their genomes with over 11 mutations per sample, more than both the national average (8.4) and global average (7.3),” stated IISc in a statement.

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The phylogenetic analysis found that the Bengaluru isolates are most closely related to the one from Bangladesh. It also showed that the isolates in India have multiple origins rather than having evolved from a single ancestral variant.

Dr Mysore said that he had suspected that there were signs of mutation in September 2020. “In September, there was a definite change in the clinical behaviour. The surge and storm, instead of happening on the ninth and tenth day, started happening a little later on the 13th and 14th day. So some patients did come back which was very unusual, but they returned a little late with new symptoms. That’s when we knew there were mutations although we didn’t have data to prove this.”

Dr KS Satish, head of department, Pulmonology, Vikram Hospital echoed his words. “Viruses are known to mutate. The cycle is to mutate and it will not cause any problem, but time alone will tell if it really matters.” He added that there could be some concern if there is resistance to the available drugs and vaccines and if they cause severe disease.

Tatu says, “We do not want people to panic because not all mutations result in any greater virulence. Right now there is nothing to panic.”

As always Dr Mysore has the last word. “Mutations are not a cause for concern but not following social distancing and wearing of masks is.”



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Sagar Biswas

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