Scientists have reportedly identified a new lineage of SARS-CoV-2 in West Bengal, which might encompass as much as 15% of the genomes in the state from January to March. This new lineage, B.1.618, pertains to a distinct set of a genetic variant that encompasses the E484K mutation, also referred to as a 'major immune escape variant,' i.e. it could still infect a person who had been infected before and had developed anti-bodies.
INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics), a conclave of 10 Indian labs working in collaboration across the country on genome sequencing, had previously named a 'double mutant variant' as B.1.617, which consisted of two mutations, E484Q, and another L245R. Post thorough examination and studies, it is suspected that this variant which has been found in other countries, might be the cause of the surge in new Covid-19 cases, touching 2,70,000 new infections a day, the highest in the world.
"The proportion of B.1.618 has been growing significantly in recent months in West Bengal," Vinod Scaria, who researches genome mutations at the CSIR-Insititute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), said on Twitter, adding "along with B.1.617 it forms a major lineage in West Bengal." IGIB is a part of INSACOG.
National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBG), Kalyani, West Bengal also a part of INSACOG collected the samples which were for detailing the genetic structure of the virus. The organization has sampled 1% of the coronavirus samples and aims to sample atleast 5%.
Too Early To Conclude
Mr Scaria affirmed that there isn't any "conclusive" evidence that the new lineage was propelling the epidemic in West Bengal. Former director of the NIBG and geneticist former director of the NIBG remarked that the new variant is spreading increasingly, but it alone can not be associated with the sudden surge of cases in West Bengal. "Mutations play a role but as only 15% of that infected carry the B.1.618, it cannot alone explain the surge," he said according to The Hindu.
Vaccine Versus The Mutation
Rakesh Mishra from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, informed that the institute was testing the plasmas of those immunized with Covishield and Covaxin against the variants of the virus to test if it escaped antibodies. Till now as the studies have shown Novavax, Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer vaccines were less effective against the South African variant, that has the E484K mutation.
West Bengal on April 1 was reporting 829 cases a day which has now shot up to 7,000 cases a day. The state now has 53,000 active cases prompting political parties to downsize and even cancel their campaigns and rallies.