A study involving a genetic analysis of samples from over 7,500 coronavirus patients suggests that the virus spread across the world late in 2019 and has been adapting to human hosts, according to Reuters.
University College London’s Genetic Institute conducted a study which detected close to 200 recurring genetic mutations of SARS-CoV-2. Researchers said this may mean that the virus is evolving as it spreads from human to human.
UCL professor Francois Balloux helped lead the research and noted that the results show that much of the virus’ genetic diversity was located in countries hardest-hit by it.
This gives the impression that the virus had already been spreading around the world in the early stages of the epidemic, mutating as it spread between people. The signs of greater mutations indicate greater spread.
“All viruses naturally mutate. Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected,” Balloux said. “So far, we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious.”
At Britain’s University of Glasgow, scientists completed a study that was published in the journal Virus Evolution on Wednesday. The scientists analyzed SARS-CoV-2 samples as well and noted that previous suggestions that there were two strains were not accurate.
Chinese scientists conducted a preliminary study in March suggesting that the new coronavirus may have two different strains.
Coronavirus has now infected over 3.68 million people and killed approximately 258,000. There have been over 1.21 million recoveries.
The findings by the UCL confirm that the virus appeared in late 2019, Balloux noted. They were published in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution
French scientists published a study this week that suggested a man in France was infected with coronavirus as soon as Dec. 27, which is almost a month before the first case was confirmed in France.
The World Health Organization said the case in France was “not surprising” and encouraged other countries to look into early cases of their own.
Balloux added that the 198 genetic mutations that have been identified are helping to lead researchers in the right direction when it comes to developing new drugs and vaccines.
“If we focus our efforts on parts of the virus that are less likely to mutate, we have a better chance of developing drugs that will be effective in the long run,” he said.