The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 that has taken the world by storm calling for authorities to tighten travel measures. The variant has picked up at least one of its mutations from a snippet of genetic material present in the common cold virus from the same infected cells, a study conducted by the Massachusetts-based data analytics firm nference suggested.
The “Variant of Concern” has undergone not less than 30 mutations. A preliminary analysis said that some of the genetic sequences do not appear in other variants of coronavirus but are found in other infectious viruses like the one that causes the common cold, a Reuter report based on the study said.
According to Venky Soundararajan of Cambridge who led the study, this particular snippet of Omicron is present in the human genome and common cold virus makes it “more human” helping it to evade the human immune system. This makes the virus transmit faster but causes mild or asymptomatic Covid. Cells in the lungs and the gastrointestinal system are home to both Covid and common cold viruses and such co-infection sets the scene for viral recombination, where two different viruses interact and reproduce with genetic material derived from parents.
The genetic sequence in Omicron also appears in the common cold-causing virus is known as HCoV-229E – and in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, the not-yet peer-reviewed study said. Since South Africa has the highest rate of HIV where common cold viruses and other pathogens can interact, there are many people in whom the recombination with this ubiquitous set of genes as in omicron has occurred, suggested Soundarajan.
The lead scientist, however, maintained more research is needed to find the origins of Omicron but the new findings underscores the importance of the undergoing vaccination programmes in countries.