NEW DELHI: Like elsewhere, coronavirus is quietly changing in India, making itself resistant to antibodies. As of now, 19 such variants are already present in the country, researchers associated with multiple government institutions have established.
Scientists attached with the CSIR - Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research and Kurnool Medical College, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, analysed over 2,40,000 SARS-COV-2 genome sequences from 133 countries and identified 86 with escape mutants, or variants with genetic changes that make them resistant to antibodies.
Nineteen of these 86 variants were found in India. An escape mutation is one that allows SARS-COV-2 to evade antibodies specific to the spike protein the virus uses to enter human cells.
All vaccines are designed to generate antibodies against the spike protein to try to block the virus’ entry into cells.
The findings come at a time when the government has decided to accelerate genome sequencing to track changes in the pathogen after a variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the UK had significant structural and behavioural changes, making it 70% more infectious that the original Covid strain.
“There is no need to be alarmed but definitely a need to be cautious,” Vinod Scaria, a scientist with CSIR-IGIB and joint first author of the paper told this newspaper.
“The variations in the virus does not mean that the vaccine will not work against it but is likely to lower its efficacy,” he said.
“During the trials of the vaccine, too, it needs to be analysed whether those who are getting infected are afflicted with the variant virus,” he added.
Scaria said cases of Covid-19 re-infection should also be followed up wi th g enome sequencing.
Waking up to expedite Genome sequencing
Of the more than 1.01 crore Covid-19 positive cases reported in India, only about 6,400 samples have been genome sequenced. In contrast, the UK with 2 million cases has already sequenced 1.57 lakh samples.