• Race to a Cure Authors

Mutations in the Coronavirus

The world is watching closely as the race to find a reliable vaccine is underway. That said, testing and distributing a vaccine is much more complicated than we may think due to several scientific factors, one of which is mutations. While there is no present evidence of these mutations having dire effects on the pandemic's progression, there may be some time in the future.

Image is courtesy of Wix

The Nature of COVID-19

According to computational biologist at the Los Almos National Laboratory in New México, According to a computational biologist at the Los Almos National Laboratory in New México, Bette Korber, SARS-CoV-2 is mutating much slower than seen in a virus-like HIV. One mutation, however, caught Korber's eye. The 29 903 letter RNA code of the virus has developed a particular mutation. It is known as the DG14G mutation. This mutation causes a change in spike proteins as determined by virologists. It represents a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2 and has spread to become the dominant form of the virus in North America, Europe, and Australia. Viruses that use RNA to store genome and can mutate at a high rate. Enzymes that replicate RNA can easily make mistakes. Scientists suspect coronaviruses, in general, mutate less quickly because of the enzymes that reproduce them. One enzyme, "proofreads," thus limiting mutations. According to Lucy Van Dorp, a computational geneticist at University College London, "[t]wo SARS-CoV-2 viruses collected from anywhere in the world differ by an average of just 10 RNA letters out of 29 903".

The D614G Mutation

Variants of SARS-CoV-2 are as follows: D614 form is recognized as an earlier version, while G614 is a later variant. The 'G' strand of the virus may have a more remarkable ability to survive than the 'D' virus. The G virus may be more viral - in other words, better at infecting, mainly through respiratory routes - but not worse in terms of symptoms. In just one month, the G614 variant overtook different variants as the "globally dominant" version. The G virus is associated with higher infectivity, potentially explaining the situation.

Image is courtesy of Wix

Why it’s Important to Track Mutations

Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is high; the need for a return to "normal life." Many current trials target spike protein affected by D614G mutation to identify SARS-CoV-2; therefore, this mutation is relevant to a successful vaccine's potential effectiveness. If a mutation stops the human immune system from using antibodies to recognize the virus, it could make fighting infection much harder. The D614G mutation does not achieve this, but diligence is needed to spot mutations that might arise in the future. Studying changes in the virus is necessary to control the spread of COVID-19, for instance, the slower mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2.

Keeping a record of any changes in SARS-CoV-2 plays a leading role in developing effective vaccines, and for us to stop the spread, we must continue to do so.


Callaway, E., E.C. (2020, September 08). The coronavirus is mutating - does it matter? Retrieved

November 15, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02544-6

Korber B;Fischer WM;Gnanakaran S;Yoon H;Theiler J;Abfalterer W;Hengartner N;Giorgi

EE;Bhattacharya T;Foley B;Hastie KM;Parker MD;Partridge DG;Evans CM;Freeman TM;de

Silva TI; ;McDanal C;Perez LG;Tang H;Moon-Walker A;Whelan SP;LaBranche CC;Saphire

EO;Monte. (2020, August 20). Tracking Changes in SARS-CoV-2 Spike: Evidence that

D614G Increases Infectivity of the COVID-19 Virus. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from


Korber, B., Fischer, W., Gnanakaran, S., Yoon, H., Theiler, J., Abfalterer, W., Montefiori, D. (2020,

January 01). Spike mutation pipeline reveals the emergence of a more transmissible form of

SARS-CoV-2. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from


AL;, G. (2020, August 20). Making Sense of Mutation: What D614G Means for the COVID-19

Pandemic Remains Unclear. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from


Featured image courtesy of Wix

Article Authors: Mina Chong, Stephanie Sahadeo

Article Editor: Maria Giroux