In many countries, the restrictions put in place to combat the spread of Covid-19 are beginning to be lifted. As a result, people are beginning to have the impression that we are coming to the end of the pandemic. However, we are not yet immune to the appearance of a new variant of the coronavirus which could be more dangerous than the previous ones.
Precisely, around mid-February, scientists from the Pasteur Institute in Paris reported the presence of a new variant which was called Deltacron, in particular because it was a hybrid of the Delta and Omicron variants. The sample containing the virus came from an elderly man in northern France and the genetic sequence differed from previous sequences. Indeed, most of the gene resembled that of Delta, but the part that encodes the spike protein of the virus was that of Omicron.
In March, three more hybrid genetic sequences were reported in the United States. In all, 60 cases have been recorded across France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the scientists noticed that the genetic sequences of Deltacron found in the United Kingdom and the United States showed certain differences compared to those of other countries.
How did the hybrid variant form?
When two viruses infect a cell, it is not uncommon for them to mix and match parts of themselves. This process is called “recombination”. This phenomenon occurs randomly during viral replication. The chances of recombination increase when one viral variant becomes less common and a new one emerges and becomes more dominant. Both variants then circulate freely and can infect people simultaneously. This is the case of the Delta and Omicron variants.
Recombination usually creates a new virus that is not viable because mixing different genes can interfere with the virus’s ability to make the proteins needed to survive. However, sometimes the virus survives, and that is what happens with Deltacron. Moreover, the different forms found in the United States and the United Kingdom seem to show that the phenomenon occurred several times separately.
A new variant to watch closely
At the moment, there is little information about the Deltacron variant. It is still unclear how it might resemble its parents, Delta and Omicron being quite different viruses. However, as Deltacron has been found in several neighboring countries, it is likely that it could spread.
Scientists have already started a series of experiments to determine the properties of this new variant. Increased genomic surveillance is also needed to see how the new virus evolves and moves.
The future will tell if Deltacron will prove to be more formidable than its parents. But its appearance also seems to warn us that other variants could emerge through recombination. In any case, a previous infection with the coronavirus as well as vaccination will be able to constitute effective protection if Deltacron begins to dominate.