Deltacron, the combination of the two most common variants circulating worldwide, has only recently popped up in Britain. So far, around 30 cases have been detected, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). One half of Deltacron involves a sub-lineage of Omicron’s BA.2, the second lineage to be discovered following BA.1 back in December in Britain.
Also dubbed the “stealth variant” as it is hard to distinguish from Delta in a PCR test, it is still labelled a “variant under investigation” rather than a variant of concern by the UKHSA.
The other involves the Delta strain, which preceded Omicron as the dominant variant.
Back in February, scientists at the Institut Pasteur in Paris uploaded a genetic sequence of the COVID-19 which was highly similar to Delta’s.
But the part of the sequence that encodes the virus’s spike protein – a key part of its external structure that it uses to enter cells in the body – came from Omicron.
Now, there are over 60 hybrid genetic sequences logged across the UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the US.
But scientists from Institut Pasteur have said there may be different variations of Deltacron sequences.
The experts said that those discovered in the UK and US can be easily distinguished from those found in different countries, and are now pressing to place a number on them to indicate what they are.
In a process known as recombination, two different viruses can mix up their parts to infect one cell.
One virus will combine parts of its genetic sequence with different components of parts another similar virus, which happens during viral replication.
But when one variant gets overtaken by another, both are still circulating in the population, meaning they are still circulating and boosts the possibility for recombination, which is likely what happened as Omicron overtook Delta as the dominant strain.
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In recombination, a new virus that is not viable usually gets created as the muddling of different genes can scupper the ability to make the proteins that are crucial for survival.
But occasionally they can survive, which appears to be the case with Deltacron.
Jeremy Kamil, from Louisiana State University Health Shreveport, told NBC News: “Delta basically grabbed Omicron’s spike protein.
“This is essentially Delta trying to hang on by plagiarising from Omicron.”
And as the Deltacron hybrids found in the US and the UK appear to be different from those across the pond mainland Europe, it may be possible that this could have happened on multiple different occasions.
The emergence of the new strain comes as the UK lifts its remaining COVID-19, despite cases being on the rise.
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More than 225,000 cases were recorded in the UK on Monday.
But some scientists have downplayed the argument that Deltacron will take over.
Dr Scott Nguyen from the Washington DC Public Health Laboratory, said: “You wouldn’t expect this to be the next big wave because antibody responses and other immune responses against Omicron should work on this recombinant, since it’s the exact same spike.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said.”As we look more, as we do more sequencing, it is possible that this recombinant virus will be detected in other countries, but it is circulating as we understand at very low levels.”