New research suggests that a mutated strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide is more contagious than the original virus that emerged in China.
A study published last week in the journal Cell found that this mutated strain — dubbed G614 — can infect human cells in the lab better than its predecessor.
The mutation that differentiates the strain is found the part of the virus’ genome that codes for the shape of its spike protein. That’s what the coronavirus uses to invade our cells, so it’s possible that a tweak there could make it easier for the virus to infect our bodies.
But according to Emma Hodcroft, a geneticist at the Nextstrain project, there’s no need to panic yet.
“Some headlines express this as a done deal. It’s not. Most scientists are not that concerned about this at the moment,” she told Business Insider.
Nextstrain tracks virus mutations over time and has been mapping the coronavirus’ changes for months. Hodcroft said her team has yet to identify a mutation that would meaningfully change how lethal or infectious the virus is.
Such mutations, though possible, “happen over decades or centuries,” she added.