A new genetic study on novel Coronavirus has found the prevalence of a unique variant of the virus in Maharashtra that is distinct from those circulating elsewhere in the country.
Scientists at Pune-based National Centre for Cell Sciences (NCCS), who carried out the study, along with other collaborators, said their findings suggest the possibility of region-specific evolution of the virus due to movement restrictions during lockdown.
“We have found four variations of SARS-CoV2 (the scientific name of novel Coronavirus) to be predominant in most of the genome sequences collected from infected people in Pune, Satara and Nashik districts,” said Dr Yogesh Shouche, senior scientist at NCCS. These specific gene variations have so far not been reported from similar studies in other parts of the country, he said.
Study of gene sequences of viruses provide valuable insights into the origins of the outbreak, which help in designing potential intervention strategies aimed at containing its spread. Minor mutations in the genes of the virus happen every few generations, and these provide clues to the trajectory of infection. Several such genetic studies on novel Coronavirus have been going on in different laboratories across India. Another such recent study, that was submitted to Health Minister Harsh Vardhan a couple of days ago, showed that the virus that was predominant in India had been originally brought by travellers who had arrived from Europe.
Dr Dhiraj Paul of NCCS, the lead author of the study, said due to frequent mutations, the novel Coronavirus was able to modify itself into different sub-types in a very short period of time.
“In our study, we have found newly-evolved mutation pattern and sub-type which is not yet reported from any other part of the country. This sub-type has reached almost 50 per cent in our study population in Maharashtra. Interestingly, the prevalence of this new sub-type of Coronavirus is higher in symptomatic patients compared to asymptomatic ones, and again higher in symptomatic females than in males,” he said.
Researchers from Armed Forces Medical College, Pune and B J Medical College, Pune were also part of this study.
Paul said specific age-wise patterns of mutations were detected in the study. For example, one specific pattern of mutations that were found in more than 30 per cent of the samples in the age group of 10-25 years, were entirely absent in the higher age group of 61-80 years.
“We have found that in the western part of the country, particularly in Maharashtra, a particular sub-type of Coronavirus, now named 20B, is dominant. Because of movement restrictions during the lockdown, it is possible that this particular sub-type evolved and remained confined only in this region. Similar, sub-types could have emerged in other parts of the country as well,” he said.
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