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Gene team keeps an eagle eye on virus mutationsBritish...

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    Gene team keeps an eagle eye on virus mutations

    British scientists are monitoring 4,000 mutations of the coronavirus amid concern that new strains may resist vaccines and treatments.

    Ministers are investing millions of pounds to study different types after learning that a vaccine could cause an explosion in mutations. This is a natural reaction as the virus tries to avoid extinction. Experts say some variations that try to fend off antibodies are already spreading across the country.

    In her first interview as director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, a body set up to deliver fast genetic analysis of the virus to the NHS, Professor Sharon Peacock said it was vital to step up surveillance because many of the vaccines target the same spike protein on the virus surface. This protein is the needle-like part of the virus that enables it to invade human cells.

    The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by causing cells in the body to make a version of the spike protein for the immune system to recognise. Picture: AFPThe Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by causing cells in the body to make a version of the spike protein for the immune system to recognise. Picture: AFP

    The first two vaccine candidates to show promise, from Pfizer and Moderna, work by causing cells in the body to make a version of the spike protein for the immune system to recognise. “Once we start to use vaccines in the general population, that will put an evolutionary driver, a selection pressure, on viruses,” she said. “Viruses are going to want to escape the effect of vaccines, because that’s what evolution is about.”


 
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