The highly mutated coronavirus strain “Pirola” BA.2.86 may not be a “black swan” event at all, introducing a viral plot twist into the pandemic like Delta and Omicron did nearly two years ago.

But it’s no ordinary variant either. That’s according to experimental data released Thursday by Cao Yulong, an assistant professor at the Center for Biomedical Innovation at Peking University in China and a top mutation researcher. His lab conducted experiments using pseudoviruses (mutated versions created by the lab).

The good news: BA.2.86 may be “much less” capable of infecting human hosts than the high-flying variant “Eris” EG.5 — estimated to account for more than one-fifth of U.S. cases as of Sept. 1, According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— and “Kraken” XBB.1.5, a pre-major variant.

Cao said the lower infectivity may mean that BA.2.86 never really catches on. Ironically, this may be thanks to some of the more than 30 mutations the variant has that set it apart from other Omicron spawns, a handful of which actually work against the virus.

The not-so-good news: BA.2.86 is characterized by a greater number of helpful mutations than harmful ones, which may be even more harmful to humans. Cao found that this powerful strain can “significantly evade” immunity from XBB variants acquired through vaccination or infection.

Unfortunately, the new COVID boosters due to be released in the US later this month are tailor-made for XBB.1.5, and how they work against the highly mutated Omicron virus is now more in question than ever.

“The efficacy of the updated vaccine against BA.2.86 should be closely monitored,” Cao wrote of his findings in a Twitter post on Thursday. “However, BA.2.86 may not become popular anytime soon due to its low infectivity.”

The standard bearer of the new crown epidemic?

Perhaps, for the time being, we can collectively breathe a sigh of relief.But experts tell us now is not the time to let our guard down wealth.

BA.2.86 likely won’t be the next “Omicron event” that would trigger an unprecedented surge in cases, create a new viral normal and cause makers of vaccines and treatments to scramble.

But one of its products might be.

“I’m more worried about its offspring,” said Ryan Gregory, a professor of biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario. wealth. He’s been assigning “street names” to goofy variants since the World Health Organization stopped assigning them new Greek letters.

“My concern is potential BA.,” he said.

Gregory cites BA.2.75 and the original XBB variant as examples. Both events were initially considered to have attracted attention, but they didn’t cause much of a stir. “It was their descendants who dominated,” he noted.

“Even if Pirola (BA.2.86) itself does not cause mass casualties, we do not expect it to serve as a new starting point for further evolution into a dominant variant.”

BA.2.86 is thought to be a new variant that has evolved in immunocompromised people and is unlikely to immediately defeat other coronavirus strains. Why? It has little competition when it comes to single hosting. On the other hand, variants that are prevalent globally have several months to acquire new mutations and increase their ability to spread.

But Gregory said that once the variant reaches the wider population, it will likely begin its own improvement process. “The fact that Pirola has gained enough of a foothold with the hosts and is growing means we need to be vigilant.”

At this stage of SARS-CoV-2 evolution, variants are evolving in tandem, acquiring the same or similar sets of mutations due to evolutionary pressure. They also combine with each other within individual humans, who can pass these new variants on to others.

This means that BA.2.86 is highly immune evasive, but may not be very transmissible, can be combined with another top-level new coronavirus variant that is good at spreading, and may have both characteristics at the same time.

“It’s time to keep an eye on what’s next for BA.2.86,” Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean for research and associate professor at New York Institute of Technology in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and a top tracker of the new coronavirus variant, said in a report. Tweets Thursday.

a closely watched phenomenon

As of Wednesday, 21 BA.2.86 sequences had been reported, according to one agency. World Health Organization update on Friday. Five cases were reported in Europe, one in Africa and one in the United States. One of these cases recently traveled to the Western Pacific, but the variant has not been reported in that area.

As of Friday, 28 cases had been reported globally, according to top variant tracker Mike Honey. The variant has also been detected in wastewater at multiple sites, but it was not possible to say how many cases were behind each detection.

“Denmark and Sweden continue to report the majority of cases so far,” Horney tweeted on Friday.

According to the World Health Organization, no deaths have been reported so far. As of last week, an elderly man in Europe was reportedly hospitalized with a strain.

The World Health Organization announced last month that it had declared BA.2.86 a “variant under surveillance,” the lowest of three alert levels. Shortly thereafter, the CDC announced that it was also tracking the variant and had found it in the U.S. state of Michigan, as well as in Israel and Denmark, where it was first reported earlier this week. The next day, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) said the variant had been detected in England and was “assessing the situation”.

Unlike most circulating variants that evolved from the Omicron derivative XBB, BA.2.86 is believed to have evolved from an earlier Omicron strain, BA.2 (in circulation in early 2022), or possibly from the original Omicron B.1.1 Evolved. 529 cases, the number of cases soared to record highs in late 2021 and early 2022.

It appears to be quite different from its predecessors. By far the most widespread variants of Omicron have a handful of mutations that make them slightly different from the previous one – often more transmissible.

BA.2.86, on the other hand, has 30 or more mutations that set it apart from other Omicrons and, according to computational biologist Jesse Bloom, have the potential to make it more immune-evading and able to Easily Infects Cells Fred Hutch Cancer Center, Seattle, WA and Top Variation Tracker.

This makes BA.2.86 different from other Omicron strains, Bloom asserted in a widely quoted speech he posted online, just as the first Omicron strain came from the original 2019 novel coronavirus that was discovered in Wuhan. same strain.

Because of this, “Pirola” has the potential to be the next variant of the Greek letter bestowed by the World Health Organization – possibly Pi, hence the name.

“What sets this one apart from many other Omicron subvariants is that it exhibits a large number of mutations … well beyond what we typically see,” Gregory previously said wealth. “It is likely that it has not been detected in some other countries.”

In its risk assessment, the HSA said the geographically dispersed cases, with no travel history, “suggested that there is confirmed international transmission”, which may have been recent. It added that there may be some degree of community transmission in the UK.

Ryan Hisner, Denmark’s top variant tracker, has previously said the wide distribution and striking similarities of the cases suggested that the increase could be rapid. wealth.

But even if BA.2.86 did spread rapidly, it probably wouldn’t lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, noted Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analysis at Johns Hopkins University Medicine.

Although the highly mutated variant is “quite different” from other known circulating strains, “it is unclear whether it will have a significant impact on the number of severe cases or our management/prevention strategies,” he previously told wealth.


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