The novel coronavirus has a tendency to evolve quickly. As we’ve seen over the last three years, the coronavirus has been shifting almost in real-time to adapt to our society’s level of immunity.
- But how fast does the coronavirus evolve?
Details: Scientists recently investigated why the novel coronavirus can evolve so quickly.
- The researchers examined the virus’ sequence data to find “the rate at which new mutations arise in the pathogen’s genetic code,” according to Science Alert.
- In all, the scientists found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has about two mutations every month.
Yes, but: The coronavirus variants of concern — such as the alpha, beta, delta and omicron variants — undergo much quicker changes.
- “The sheer number of mutations observed in these four VOCs is much higher than what would be expected under phylogenetic estimates of the nucleotide evolutionary rate of SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
Why it matters: COVID-19 is still circulating throughout the United States, though at the lowest numbers since summer 2021, according to The New York Times.
- Experts are worried a new COVID-19 variant could arrive in the near future, though, which would change the pandemic yet again, as I wrote for the Deseret News.
The bottom line: The scientists found that the variants’ evolution happens quickly and episodically, meaning the virus will change quickly before a new variant emerges.
- “We find compelling evidence that episodic, instead of long term, increases in the substitution rate underpin the emergence of VOCs,” the research team wrote.