A Mutation Called Eek Emerges in Oregon

 Charles Chiu demonstrates the process of sequencing SARS-CoV-2 samples at the University of California, San Francisco. January 5, 2021.  Image: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty
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Charles Chiu demonstrates the process of sequencing SARS-CoV-2 samples at the University of California, San Francisco. January 5, 2021. Image: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty

The latest mutation of concern: A sample in Oregon was found to contain both the B.1.1.7 coronavirus mutation first discovered in the UK and the E484K mutation known as “Eek,” which has been found in variants in South Africa, Brazil, and New York City.
 
But the version found in Oregon appears to be homegrown, The New York Times reports.
 
The Eek mutation has been shown to hamper the immune response, making vaccines less effective—though doesn’t render them useless.

Response: Pfizer and Moderna have begun testing updated versions of their vaccines.

Some Relief: Mutations can also work against the virus—research in Brazil suggests that additional mutations may weaken Eek’s effect.

Still, the rise of such variants has been a wake-up call to scientists who underestimated the virus, The Washington Post reports.
 
“The spike protein seems remarkably tolerant of change. … That, I don’t think most people would have expected,” said NIH director Francis S. Collins.

Likely Outcome: The continued rise of worrying variants underscores the likelihood that SARS-CoV-2 will be like the flu, with researchers constantly watching for mutations and updating vaccines to accommodate them.

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