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.
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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.

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.