Deltacron, a Super Variant or Lab Error?

Source: Freepik

Scientists at the University of Cyprus have detected several coronavirus strains with both Delta and Omicron mutations, dubbing it ‘deltacron’.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the media has played a huge role in the spread of misinformation. From clickbait titles to coining terms such as flurona, news outlets have significantly increased their views and fear among the public. Earlier this month, the term ‘deltacron’ sparked a new wave of scientific controversy across the world. First coined by Professor Leondios Kostrikis at the University of Cyprus, many news outlets have misleadingly labelled deltacron as a new coronavirus hybrid. However, experts are not convinced.

On January 7th, Kostrikis and his team uploaded 25 genomic sequences to the international database GISAID. The samples came from hospitalized patients and all the sequences showed elements of both the Delta and Omicron variants. Later, the researchers uploaded further 27 cases of the unusual sequence to the database. According to Kostrikis, he named it deltacron due to the presence of omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta spike protein.

Initially, Kostrikis hypothesized that some individual Delta strains likely mutated their spike gene similar to that of Omicron. However, media outlets began calling deltacron a hybrid, resulting from a co-infection of the Delta and Omicron variants. As a result, Kostrikis soon removed the sequences from public view on the database until further investigation.

No Hybrid, just a Technical Error

Although recombination is a possibility, such events are extremely rare. Moreover, the mutations described by the team at Cyprus are also found in other variants. According to virologist Thomas Peacock, at Imperial College London, there are several sequences with elements of other variants present on GISAID. Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, believes the variant likely occurred from lab contamination during sequencing.

The apparent Omicron mutations are located precisely and exclusively in a section of the sequence encoding the spike gene (amino acids 51 to 143) affected by a technological artifact in certain sequencing procedures.

Dr Jeffrey Barrett

Kostrikis is currently investigating the sequences further and plans to submit his research for peer review.


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