Mutate or die, stupid!

Mutations are like identity cards of many viruses.

Viruses do not mutate because they want to do it.

It is a random phenomenon of nature.

Nucleic Acids. Image credit: NIH. National Human Genome Research Institute.

A virus is, as someone said, an enigma enclosed in a layer of lipids.

Viruses are intracellular parasites. They need to enter bacteria or plant and animal cells for their survival. There they use synthetic cellular machinery to build structural proteins. Viruses lack such machinery. So, they must use the borrowed one to their advantage as real biological ‘squatters.

Viruses are like biological squatters. Image credits: PA. The Guardian.


A mutation is a minimal single-letter change in the genome (A by G). The mutations occur at random, and they are inherent to RNA viruses.

A mutation is a minimal, single-letter change in the genome.

The coronavirus has a genetic text with errors.

The current pandemic virus SARS CoV-2 (‘corona’) has a genome of 30,000 letters. Corona is a mutagenic RNA virus with around two new changes every month. The evolutive phenomenon was happening in the animal world. It happened for thousands of years long before humans were the viral goal, as it happens now.

Figure 1. The panel above shows the G614 mutation appearance in February 2020. There is an increase in May-June. The bottom panel expresses the infection’s size. The figure on the right (all blue) with the G614 mutation produces more copies of the virus (viral load). Image credits: Cell, 2020: 182 (4): 812–827.

A viral variant is sweeping England and the world.

SARS CoV-2 mutates less (2–6 times) than seasonal influenza viruses. Many other mutations (over 13,000) have emerged so far, almost all inconsequential.

An intriguing clue is that it presents at least 17 mutations or changes in the S (Spike) protein. One of them is N501Y, the media star of the moment.

It seems that the ‘British’ variant also spreads fast. The explanation is that seven mutations affect the S protein. This fact allows the coronavirus to improve cell receptor (ACE2) binding to enter the cell.

Figure 2. Covid-19 case reporting rate in England per 100,000 population and age group (16 December 2020). The age curves increase after September in people under 65 (and very young). Image credits: ECDC.

We must not disregard the human factor’s participation as one of great importance in the British. And also in the world epidemiological disaster.

For the moment, the coronavirus is only spreading more and better.

It is still unknown if the N501Y variant will have greater clinical aggressiveness. But it does not appear to affect current treatments or available mRNA vaccines. It is too early to conclude anything.

It seems a good idea to get vaccinated when our times arrive.

Nurse vaccinating a person with one of the vaccines. Credit: The Associated Press.

Medical Doctor (Infectious Diseases specialist/Professor of Medicine) and writer (narrative, theater).