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Coronavirus, or COVID-19. Photo: World Health Organisation

French scientists contradict Chinese study claiming two Corona strains

A Chinese study which claimed that the Coronavirus Covid-19 (or Sars-CoV-2) had mutated giving rise to two distinct strains, is not credible say French researchers.

Published: March 9, 2020, 8:49 am

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    Scientific research, published in the National Science Review, had allegedly established that the pathogen had mutated into an L strain, the most recurrent one, with 70 percent of the cases, and into an S strain, believed to be the primitive one from which the following originated, which would also be the most aggressive and the most rapidly spread (meaning high transmissibility).

    As French daily Le Figaro reported, the scientific community is not at all in agreement with the result of the Chinese researchers: “Not only does this study present technical errors, but it also comes to conclusions that are largely exaggerated. The authors have no element to say that one of the two strains is more dangerous than the other, nor that they are two distinct viral lines,” said Étienne Simon-Lorière, head of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Genomics of Viruses at the Pasteur Institute.

    “The mutations that these researchers identified are not the reflection of an evolution of the virus, but of the minor changes without observed effects that have been over-interpreted” confirmed Professor Bruno Lina, head of the National Center of Reference for Respiratory Viruses in Lyon.

    RNA viruses, such as the Coronaviruses of which Covid-19 is a part, have a very high mutation frequency and even the simplest viruses generate many mutations.

    Étienne Decroly, molecular virology specialist and director of the research sector at the CNRS (Center National de la Recherche Scientifique), says while mutations occur, “the risk of a mutation giving rise to a change in the characteristics of the virus is extremely low. In 99,99 percent of cases these mutations do not change anything, and therefore we speak of silent mutations”.

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