Interviewer: Professor David Montefiori, thank you very much
for taking the time to do this interview with us today to discuss
mutations leading to new SARS-CoV-2 variants and
their implications for pathology and vaccine research.
Let me start directly by asking you:
how many different SARS-CoV-2 strains have we identified so far?
In particular, the term 'strain' is used differently by different people.
Could you clarify what is meant by it and when it should be used?
Prof. Montefiori: Yes, there is no strict definition of the term 'strain' and yes,
the term is used differently by different people.
Generally speaking, there are
several different strains of coronavirus that are known to infect humans.
For example, at least four strains are known to cause common colds.
Other strains, such as the original SARS coronavirus first reported in 2002,
and the MERS coronavirus first reported in 2012,
have caused deadly outbreaks.
SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of coronavirus that
falls somewhere between these two ends of the disease spectrum.
Genetic variability has given rise to
at least seven distinct sub-types (or 'clades') of SARS-CoV-2,
where each clade is comprised of multiple genetic variants.
All of these variants are considered to be members of the SARS-CoV-2 strain.
Interviewer: How likely is it for this virus to mutate into a more deadly or lethal variant?
Prof.Montefiori: Well, like all viruses,
SARS-CoV-2 mutates frequently.
Many mutations have little or no biological consequence.
However, occasionally a mutation arises that provides an advantage to the virus.