New variants of the COVID-19 virus have appeared around the world, including a more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus that was first identified in the United Kingdom. Other variants have been identified in South Africa, Nigeria and Japan.
Viruses constantly change through mutation. Some variants come and go. Others stick around. Florida State University Professor Zucai Suo is available to offer context on why and how viruses mutate and what that change means for COVID-19 and efforts to prevent its spread.
Zucai Suo, Eminent Professor and Dorian and John Blackmon Chair in Biomedical Science, Department of Biomedical Sciences
Suo’s laboratory is researching how accurately the COVID-19 virus replicates. He also studies the enzymes involved in DNA and RNA replication and repair and has developed FDA-approved antiviral drugs as an industry researcher.
“Virus mutation generally has an error rate that creates diverse populations of genomic mutants, or ‘quasispecies.’ Too many replication mutations are not desirable for any virus’s fitness, but a proper number of mutations allows it to evolve and adapt to new environments and selective pressures. So far, we don’t know the replication error rate of the COVID-19 virus, but it is not surprising that different quasispecies of COVID-19 virus exist in each infected patient. Because of these changes, current antiviral vaccines and therapeutics may lose partial or complete efficacy against some of the quasispecies.”