How the South African COVID-19 variant was found

How the South African COVID-19 variant was found

UC Riverside biomedical scientists were part of an international team that identified the coronavirus strain

Variants of the coronavirus are appearing in different parts of the world, many of them spreading with alarming speed. One contagious variant is the South African, or SA, variant, identified by an international team of researchers, including biomedical scientists from the University of California, Riverside.

“The new COVID-19 variants are the next new frontier,” said Adam Godzik, a professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine and a member of the research team that made the discovery. “Of these, the SA and Brazil strains are most worrying. They have mutations that make them resistant to antibodies we generate with existing vaccines. It is commonly believed we are in a tight race: Unless we vaccinate people quickly and squash the pandemic, new variants would dominate to the point that all our COVID-19 vaccines would be ineffective.”

Godzik and Arghavan Alisoltani-Dehkordi, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab, helped characterize the new SA variant by providing its spike protein structure using computer simulations.

“Each SARS-CoV-2 variant has specific mutations defining it,” Alisoltani-Dehkordi said. “Professor Godzik and I used computer modeling to suggest possible structural and functional consequences of spike protein mutations in the SA lineage. Our analysis, confirmed also by several other research groups, shows that some of the mutations potentially result in a higher transmissibility of the virus and a weaker immune response.”

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

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About UC Riverside

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California’s diverse culture, UCR’s enrollment is more than 25,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of almost $2 billion. To learn more, email news@ucr.edu

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