SARS-CoV-2: MUTATIONS & VARIANTS
By Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer | New York Times
Each coronavirus contains nearly 30,000 letters of RNA. This genetic information allows the virus to infect cells and hijack them to make new viruses.
As an infected cell builds new coronaviruses, it occasionally makes tiny copying errors called mutations. Scientists can track mutations as they are passed down through a lineage, which is a branch of the viral family tree.
A group of coronaviruses that share the same inherited set of distinctive mutations is called a variant. If enough mutations accumulate in a lineage, the viruses may evolve clear-cut differences in how they function. These lineages come to be known as strains. Covid-19 is caused by a coronavirus strain known as SARS-CoV-2.
Over the course of the pandemic, a number of variants of SARS-CoV-2 have arisen. Some of them are raising worries that they may draw out the pandemic or make vaccines less effective.
Article originally featured in the New York Times on February 15, 2021