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The omicron variant may have come from mice, new study says

Where did the omicron variant come from? A new study looks to answer that question

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Employees work to detect COVID-19 infections,

Employee work on an assembly line at NG Biotech, a start-up that makes an array of medical tests, including kits for use at home and by medical professionals to detect COVID-19 infection , in Guipry, western France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Researchers have suggested the omicron variant may have originated in mice.

Jeremias Gonzalez, Associated Press

The omicron variant has reshaped the state of the coronavirus pandemic. Events have been canceled. Cases are rising. And we’ve barely passed into January.

Researchers have been wondering, though, where the omicron variant came from. Scientists in China recently published a study that suggests the omicron variant may have come from mice.

  • The study — published in the Journal of Genetics and Genomics and can be read on the pre-pint server bioRxiv — looked into why the omicron variant is so different compared to other COVID-19 variants.
  • A team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing found that the omicron variant “closely resembled the mutations associated with virus evolution in mouse cells,” according to IFL Science.
  • “Furthermore, they say that the mutations show that the virus has adapted to infecting mouse cells,” IFL Science reports.

The scientists suggest that the omicron variant may have jumped from mice to humans at some point, affecting our entire lives.

  • “Our results suggest that the progenitor of Omicron jumped from humans to mice, rapidly accumulated mutations conducive to infecting that host, then jumped back into humans, indicating an inter-species evolutionary trajectory for the Omicron outbreak,” the authors of the study wrote.

Scientists in South Africa discovered the omicron variant during the Thanksgiving weekend, sounding the alarm on the emerging new variant. However, it’s unclear where the variant first came from.

Per BBC News, some scientists in South Africa have a “highly plausible hypothesis” that the omicron variant came from an immunocompromised patient, who was infected with COVID-19.

  • “Normally your immune system would kick a virus out fairly quickly, if fully functional,” Linda-Gayle Bekker, a professor who leads the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, told BBC News.
  • “In someone where immunity is suppressed, then we see virus persisting. And it doesn’t just sit around, it replicates. And as it replicates it undergoes potential mutations. And in somebody where immunity is suppressed that virus may be able to continue for many months — mutating as it goes,” she added.