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Canadian scientists share first images of B.1.1.7 coronavirus mutation

In a statement, researchers at the University of British Columbia said the pictures provide insight into why the B.1.1.7 mutation is more infectious. They are also examining other variants, including "Indian" B.1.617.

May 04, 2021 / 03:00 PM IST
Structure image of B.1.1.7 (UK variant) (Image: University of British Columbia)

Structure image of B.1.1.7 (UK variant) (Image: University of British Columbia)

Researchers at a Canadian university have published the first molecular images of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 mutation, which was first detected in the UK in December 2020, and made the virus more infectious.

The images, taken at near-atomic resolution, show the N501Y mutation on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The images were captured using cryo-electron microscopes. In a statement, the University of British Columbia said the pictures provided insight into why the B.1.1.7 mutation is more infectious.

Structure image of B.1.1.7 (UK variant) (Image: University of British Columbia) Structure image of B.1.1.7 (UK variant) (Image: University of British Columbia)

Dr Sriram Subramaniam, professor at UBC's medicine department of biochemistry and molecular biology, and his team conducted the research. Their research on B.1.1.7 has been published in PLOS Biology, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal

The B.1.1.7 variant has an "unusually large" number of mutations, the UBC statement said. The N501Y mutation is located on the virus's spike protein, through which the virus attaches itself to human cells.

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"The images also add to the growing body of data indicating that existing vaccines are likely to remain effective in preventing mild and severe cases caused by B.1.1.7,"Subramaniam said.

The statement said that available vaccines will work against the B.1.1.7 variant. The variant can still be neutralised by the antibodies that stop the entry of the unmutated version of SARS-CoV-2 into human cells.

"This is an important observation and adds to the growing body of evidence that the majority of antibodies elicited in our immune system by existing vaccines are likely to remain effective in protecting us against the B.1.1.7 variant," he said.

Researchers at UBC are also examining other variants, including the P.1 (Brazilian), B.1.351 (South African), B.1.427/B.1.429 (Californian) and B.1.617 (Indian) variants.
Moneycontrol News
first published: May 4, 2021 12:38 pm

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