Many mutations in Omicron allow it to bond with human cells efficiently
SWITZERLAND: Even as the newly reported Omicron variant is poised to replace Delta as the dominant variant across the world, a study led by an Indian-origin researcher shows that many mutations in the variant allow it to bond with human cells far more efficiently than previous strains.
The Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa in late November, and has since spread rapidly to 106 countries. The variant is now the dominant strain in many countries including the US, the UK, Denmark among others.
Of all the variants of coronavirus so far, Omicron is the most heavily mutated with more than 30 mutations on its spike protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells. The variant also harbours a high number of mutations in regions of the spike protein that antibodies recognise, potentially dampening their potency.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada, studied Omicron using cryo-electron microscopy — a technique that provides images of the virus at incredibly high resolution.
The results, published pre-print and not peer-reviewed yet, showed that “Omicron has far greater binding affinity than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus” due to new bonds created between the virus and human cell receptors, Dr Sriram Subramaniam, lead scientist, was quoted as saying to the Daily Mail.
In addition, the researchers tested Omicron against human and monoclonal antibodies, finding that the variant is more resistant to these immune system particles than other variants.
“The Omicron variant is unprecedented for having 37 spike protein mutations – that’s three to five times more mutations than any other variant,” Subramaniam, a biochemistry professor at the University, was quoted as saying in a statement. – THE PIONEER