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COVID-19 Omicron variant: What we know about the 53 mutations of the virus

What sets Omicron apart from the previous strains of the novel coronavirus is the fact that while other variants had about one or two dozen mutations, the Omicron variant was found by scientists to have a whopping 53 mutations.

As many as 30 mutations were found in Omicron’s spike gene by researchers.

Omicron variant mutation: Nearly two years after the pandemic first hit the country, India acknowledged at the beginning of January 2022 that coronavirus had reached the stage of community transmission. Centre had said that the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus was spreading in the country via community transmission, and had become the dominant strain in many metros. What sets Omicron apart from the previous strains of the novel coronavirus is the fact that while other variants had about one or two dozen mutations, the Omicron variant was found by scientists to have a whopping 53 mutations. What is more is that of these 53 mutations, 13 were rare which should have, in fact, been harmful to Omicron, according to a report in IE.

A typical mutation in a virus can either make it transmit at a faster rate or make it defective enough that it could compete with other variants. While the Alpha variant had 23 mutations, the Delta variant became dominant with 20 distinctive mutations. This figure is twice in the Omicron variant which has caused the current global surge in COVID-19 cases.

As many as 30 mutations were found in Omicron’s spike gene by researchers, of which 13 had never been seen before. Scientists are of the opinion that any mutation beneficial to a variant shows up in the samples, while a rare one indicates that it might be harmful for the virus – preventing it from multiplying, the report said.

Omicron has three mutation clusters, of which, two change the spike near its tip. This makes the variant effective in infecting people who have antibodies against the novel coronavirus (vaccinated individuals or those infected in the past). Meanwhile, the third cluster of mutations remains at the base of the spike and does not merge with the cell membrane, instead pinching off to create a bubble in the cell, then breaking open and releasing the genes. This is believed to be the reason why Omicron is less severe than Delta, since cells in the upper airway can readily take up Omicron in bubbles, the report added.

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