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article imageSeven COVID-19 variants have been detected in the U.S.

By Karen Graham     Feb 15, 2021 in Science
As Americans anxiously watch the spread of coronavirus variants that were first identified in Britain and South Africa, scientists are finding a number of new variants that seem to have originated in the United States.
The study, posted on the preprint website MedRxiv on Sunday, found that seven growing lineages of the coronavirus have been spotted in states across the U.S. All seven evolved independently and have gained a mutation at the exact same spot in their genes.
While the seven mutations are similar to the UK and South African mutations, which are more contagious, it is unknown at this time if the newly identified variants are more contagious, although it is suspected that this is likely, reports Forbes.
"Independent genomic surveillance programs based in New Mexico and Louisiana contemporaneously detected the rapid rise of numerous clade 20G (lineage B.1.2) infections carrying a Q677P substitution in S," according to the study authors.
The Q677P variant was first detected in the US on October 23, yet between Dec. 1, 2020, and Jan. 19, 2021, it accounted for 27.8 percent of cases in Louisiana and 11.3 percent of all SARS-CoV-2 cases in New Mexico.
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and a co-author of the new study.
While it may not be clear whether this shared mutation makes the virus variants more contagious, the one thing that can't be discounted is the fact that it appears in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells, and that makes scientists suspicious.
“I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit,” Dr. Kamil said.
It is hard to say whether the variants spread so easily because they are more contagious, or if this was due to holiday travel and superspreader events. Dr. Emma Hodcroft, a co-author of the study, in a tweet, said: "the mutation may offer some kind of benefit to the virus, so that when it appears (mutations appear pretty randomly) it's being positively selected, so we see its frequency growing."
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