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Scientists identify Covid-19 ‘Mexican variant’ that’s already spread to Europe


A coronavirus molecule (Getty Images)

A new variant of Covid-19 has been identified, originating in Mexico, that has already spread to Europe.

This new strain appears to be highly contagious and already makes up 52.8% of the confirmed Covid-19 cases in Mexico.

Known as T478K, or informally as the ‘Mexican variant’, it has yet to be given a name under the new WHO system.

But scientists are alarmed at the rate of transmission.

‘This variant has been increasingly spreading among people in North America, particularly in Mexico. To date, this variant covers more than 50% of the existing viruses in this area. The rate and speed of the spread recall those of the ‘British variant’”, explains Federico Giorgi, who is the coordinator of a study on the variant and a professor at the Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology of the University of Bologna.

‘The mutation of the Spike protein is structurally located in the region of interaction with human receptor ACE2. Coronaviruses attach to this receptor to infect cells, thus spreading the infection with more efficacy.’

In Europe, the Mexican variant has been found in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Italy.

Researchers tested the action of T478K Spike protein with in silico simulations and found out that this mutated protein can alter the superficial electrostatic charge.

Consequently, it can change not only the interaction with the ACE2 human protein (the mechanism allowing coronaviruses to access the cells) but also with the antibodies of the immune system and thus hinder drug efficacy.

‘Thanks to the great amount of data available in international databases, we can hold an almost real-time control over the situation by monitoring the spread of coronavirus variants across different geographical areas,’ concludes Giorgi.

‘Keeping up this effort in the next months will be crucial to act promptly and with efficient means.’


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