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Health

China Is Experimenting With Mutant Covid Strains Again – Should We Be Worried?

But despite the controversy and potential risks, Chinese scientists are not the only ones interested in coronavirus strains in an effort to better understand them.

With the worst days of the pandemic behind us, there has been a surge in research dedicated to genetically modifying Covid variants, cloning related pathogens, hunting viruses, and much more.

Although some of this work is happening in the East, much of the work is happening in the UK, led by some of the biggest names in virology, as well as in Germany, Switzerland, Japan and in the United States.

The scientists involved insist there is little to fear and much to gain.

They say the experiments, carried out in safe, high-security laboratories, are essential for a better understanding of Sars-CoV-2 and the wider family of coronaviruses to which it belongs.

“Reverse genetics”

An organization called the G2P2-UK Consortium is leading this research in the UK.

Funded by the UK taxpayer and run by Imperial College London, it was created with the aim of examining how current and emerging Covid variants adapt in humans, and the means by which they manage to take the upper hand in a population.

It also seeks to determine the role that different mutations – random changes in the genetic sequence of a virus – have on the characteristics of a variant, in terms of lethality, transmissibility and ability to evade virus-induced immunity. the vaccine.

“To understand why different variants of concern behave differently, we need to identify which mutations in the genome confer these properties,” said Professor Wendy Barclay, head of the G2P2 Consortium.

This process usually begins with the emergence of a new Covid variant that has acquired a number of mutations.

New mutations will occupy a central place in the experiments that follow. Their genetic code will be removed from the Covid strain under investigation and inserted either into the original Wuhan virus that emerged in late 2019 or, sometimes, into another variant of concern.

This process – called “reverse genetics” – modifies proteins in the virus that are responsible for its ability, for example, to infect and replicate in human nasal cells, or to evade antibodies and other human defense mechanisms.

This modified virus will then be exposed to human cells grown in the laboratory or in hamsters to see if these functions are enhanced or diminished.

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