Eric Hickman: 4th-Wave Of COVID-19 Will Push Rates To Zero

Restricting travel between continents may prevent these variants from getting around, but there is another wrinkle to this. In biology, convergent or parallel evolution is a common yet counter-intuitive phenomenon. Independent lineages of a biological entity can arrive at similar evolutionary fitness solutions without any interaction between them. The similarity between the sugar glider (marsupial from Australia) and the flying squirrel (mammal from North America) is an example of this (image below).

COVID-19 Wave Rates, Eric Hickman: 4th-Wave Of COVID-19 Will Push Rates To Zero

Image Source: Getty/Encyclopedia Brittanica/UIG

Mutants

The same phenomenon is happening with Sars-CoV-2 mutations. Critical mutations from the U.K. variant (N501Y) and the one shared by the South African and Brazilian variants (E484K) emerged independently in a now-deceased Boston COVID-19 patient with prolonged continuous infection. There are quotes from a National Public Radio story below. But for those interested, it is an interesting read (or listen) found at the link below:

Li and his colleagues published their findings in The New England Journal of Medicine in early November 2020 with little fanfare. Then about a month later, the pandemic took a surprising turn – and this peculiar case in Boston took on a new importance.

Scientists in the U.K. and South Africa announced they had detected new variants of the coronavirus. These variants were causing huge surges of COVID-19 in these countries.

When researchers looked at the genes of these variants, guess what they found? A cluster of mutations that looked remarkably similar to the mutations found in the virus from the Boston patient. The sets of mutations weren’t exactly identical, but they shared important characteristics. They both had about 20 mutations, and they shared several key ones, including a mutation (N501Y) known to help the virus bind more tightly to human cells and another mutation (E484K) known to help the virus evade antibody detection.

National Public Radio, 2/5/2021, “Extraordinary Patient Offers Surprising Clues to Origins of Coronavirus Variants”

The virus may optimize itself to known mutations without spreading geographically, weakening the power of travel restrictions.

 

New Variants Will Emerge

The virus is just a little over one-year-old on its new metaphorical planet of “humans” and is still trying to find an evolutionary best fit. A safe assumption is that more variants will emerge.

“Look, there is going to be a whole cascade of these new variants. The virus moved between species. It migrated from the back end of a pangolin and to humans. And it’s got to adapt to humans. What we see now is it is getting better and better and more efficient at living in humans. And that we can see a set of other mutations coming down the line. So, I think we mustn’t say ‘ahh, well we now know what the mutations are going to look like.’ We don’t. There’s gonna be a set of other ones.”

U.K. Channel 4 news, 01/24/2021, Interview with Prominent Virologist Sir John Bell

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