The continued spread of the coronavirus infections across the world has led to the discovery of a Greek alphabet of variants of the COVID-19 virus.
Some of those variants are more dangerous as they are more infectious, and some are resistant to protection provided by the vaccines on the market.
Scientists remain focused on the Delta variant as they consider it the most worrisome. It infects a higher proportion of vaccinated people compared to other variants.
The variant also seems to be mutating further, with reports emerging of the “Delta Plus” variant, sub-lineage that carries an additional mutation that has been shown to evade immune protection.
There’s also, Lamba, which has been highlighted as a potential new threat, though infectious disease experts told Reuters it may be receding.
But how is COVID-19 mutating?
The Cleveland Clinic says viruses mutate constantly, especially those which contain RNA as their genetic material, as is the case with the coronaviruses and the influenza viruses.
“All viruses are made up of a bundle of genetic material (either DNA or RNA) that’s covered by a protective coating of proteins. Once a virus gets into your body – usually through your mouth or nose – it latches onto one of your cells. The virus’s DNA or RNA then enters your cell, where it can make copies of itself that go off and infect other cells. If the virus can copy itself and hijack enough of your cells without being wiped out by your immune system, that’s how you get sick,” the Cleveland Clinic said in a report.
“Every now and then, an error occurs during the virus’s copying process. That’s a mutation.”
Microbiologist and pathologist Daniel Rhoads explained: “Most of the time, mutations are so small that they don’t significantly affect how the virus works, or they make the virus weaker. But occasionally, a mutation helps the virus copy itself or get into our cells more easily.”
He added: “If these advantageous genetic mistakes are included when the virus replicates, they’re passed on and eventually become part of the virus’s normal genome.”
Mutations accumulate over time and that’s how new variants of a virus strain are created.