To many of us, when we hear the word “mutation”, we’d think of the mutants in X-Men.
Or some of us who’ve paid attention during science lessons when we were in secondary school might remember mutations as the cause of cancer.
Now, with the words “coronavirus mutation” (or COVID-19 mutation) trending in Google search daily, you should be wondering: What’s with all the talks about the mutations to the coronavirus?
Should we be worried? And what’s with the so-called “double-mutant”?
This is where Goody Feed is here to save the day. Or at least add a little bit of knowledge to your life by simplifying everything for you.
If you prefer to watch a video about this topic instead, here’s a video for you:
Living Things Are Always Multiplying
Before anything, do note that this is a very simplified version of how mutations work in a virus, so if you want to know more, you can head down to the library and read all those reference books that you can’t borrow home.
The very first thing you’ve got to know is this: living things are always multiplying.
For example, three years ago, there were only two cats at Bukit Batok Crescent. Now there are twenty.
Normally, we would call such an act of “multiplying”, reproduction, but people who want to sound smart call it “meiosis”.
Cells are also Always Multiplying
Other than the twenty cats in Bukit Batok Crescent after 3 years, there are also trillions of new cat cells here, because our cells are always dividing with old cells dying.
This is called mitosis.
Ever since you started reading this article, almost 35,000 new cells have been created in your body to replace old cells.
Aside from cells, viruses are also always multiplying. Although the debate on whether a virus is considered a living thing or not is still ongoing, it is no doubt that it has a similar “hobby” as our cells – the love for multiplication.
On the other hand, unlike our cells that have lots of thingy inside to divide themselves, virus hijack our cells’ “thingy” to “multiple”.
Error in Multiplying for Cells
Like everything in life, mistakes are prone to happen. Cells also tend to make mistakes from time to time. After all, it is not easy to make 330 billion new cells a day.
So, what happens if our cell makes a mistake?
Immune System Destroy Defective Cells
When a new cell seems defective, our immune system will destroy it immediately, because it sees it as “non-self” or “foreign”.
Because apparently, our immune system is as xenophobic as some Facebook users.
This is why it’s important to keep your immune system in its tip-top condition.
This process is happening regularly in your body because remember: since you started reading this article, over 100,000 new cells have been produced, and errors are bound to happen in one of your new cells.
However, things are a tad different if you’re a virus instead of a cell.
Error in Multiplying for a Virus that Leads to Mutation
Just like cells, viruses, as they multiple, will have errors as well.
Let’s look at COVID-19: on average, it’s estimated that an infected person will have about 1 billion coronavirus particles in his body, which mean there would be at least one virus particle that’s multiplied ”wrongly”.
If this virus particle goes on to infect another person, then the other person will have another billion of this new vibrant.
So, as you can probably tell, mutations in virus are very common when it’s spread so quickly. In fact, it is common among all living thing. It’s just that our immune system stops the mutations in our body, but nothing is stopping a virus from mutating.
Which leads to the next point: what kinds of mutations can a virus have?
Types of Coronavirus Mutation
The short answer? No one knows.
With so many mutations, it can mutate into many different types. Many mutations are minor, so unless you read the genes of the virus, you might not even know it’s a different strain.
Instead, scientists are only worried about those that might have serious consequences, which is called “Variant of Concern”.
Variant of Concern
When we read about mutations in the news, we’re usually just reading about variants of concern and not just any new variant, because there are many new variants.
For example, the B.1.1.7, which most of us know as the UK variant, is reportedly more transmittable and “likely increased severity based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates”.
Unless you live in a cave, you’d have known that there’ve been a few circulating in our population.
In recent weeks, you’ve also been hearing about something known as “double mutant”.
Technically speaking, mutations are so common that one vibrant might have gone through tens of mutation, so why is there a “double mutant”?
The thing is, the phrase “double mutant” is not a good representation of the vibrant, because it’s not that it’s gone through two mutations; instead, it has two variants of concern.
Because this “double mutant” virus, which is officially called B.1617, has more than a dozen mutations, but two of them would’ve caused serious consequences.
Naturally, you‘d be wondering: would it affect the effectiveness of the vaccine?
Would Vaccine Work on the New Variants?
Once again, the short answer is this: no one knows.
You see, taking the example of the B.1.1.7 variant again, it’s reported that they might work against the variant as well.
As of the time of this writing, studies are still being conducted for other variants.
But of course, we should be worried about something else: new variants. For all you know, we might be looking at another variant of concern.
As of now, our solution to this is an annual jab.
Like the flu vaccine, an annual jab trains our body to fight against a variant of concern. Or variants of concern.
By the way, lest you think all this sounds new, they’re not: all viruses work the same way.
We just know about this because this is the first virus that caused lockdowns all over the world, and even caused bubble tea shops to close in Singapore.
Oh, and also McDonald’s.
Featured Image: APIWAN BORRIKONRATCHATA / Shutterstock.com