Scientists have urged people not to panic over reports of a new coronavirus variant that is alleged to be a combination of both Omicron and Delta variants.
News of the alleged variant, which has been dubbed ‘Deltacron’, came to light last week as reports suggested it had emerged from what is known as a recombination event, which involves a patient being infected with two variants that then produce a new ‘offspring’ variant.
However, experts have since insisted there is no evidence to support the news of a new variant, stating instead that sequences of ‘Deltacron’ came about as a result of a laboratory error.
There have been 25 sequences of Deltacron reported to date, according to The Independent, with experts suggesting that they are the result of Omicron fragments accidentally having been inserted into Delta’s genetic make-up during a sequencing process that takes place when attempting to identify a COVID variant infection.
Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, explained: ‘This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages.’
Aris Katzourakis, a professor of evolution and genomics at Oxford University, explained that accidentally inserting fragments is a common error that can occur in any laboratory, as sequencing a virus involves dividing its genome into genetic fragments and analysing it before it is put back together in a computer.
Katzourakis explained that one particular fragment of Delta is prone to ‘dropping out’ during this process, and that it is ‘sensitive to contamination’. When it comes to the 25 ‘Deltacron’ samples, it is likely that the gap left by the fragment was filled with an Omicron one.
He commented: ‘This is a telltale sign of laboratory contamination giving the impression of recombination.’
The professor acknowledged the 25 samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country, so therefore they are not a ‘technical error’, however he stressed that the process of accidentally combining fragments ‘happens all the time’.
It’s not that it’s impossible for recombination between variants to happen. Just, this isn’t evidence of it.
If it was a real recombination event, when you make a tree of Delta and Deltracron sequences, the Deltacon sequences should form a distinct branch in that tree, indicative of their common ancestry.
What you see instead, is a mix of the Deltacron sequences within the Delta tree. This means that they do not form a distinct lineage.
Though ‘Deltacron’ may exist in the 25 sequences, experts have assured it is not something the public needs to worry about.
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