Ohio State Scientists Uncover New COVID-19 Variant In Columbus

Jan 13, 2021

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center doctors have identified new strains of COVID-19 in Ohio, one with a mutation identical to the virus spreading rapidly through the United Kingdom. 

The virus mutation that mirrors the U.K. variant has been found in just one person in Columbus, but researchers believe it developed independently from a virus already present in the United States. In addition, the team says they’ve found a different variant with a handful of mutations that has become the dominant virus in the Columbus area since late December.

Peter Mohler, who co-authored the study and serves as Ohio State's chief scientific officer, warns against over-reaction. In a press release, he said scientists are still working to “understand the impact of mutations on transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population and whether it has a more significant impact on human health.”

Mohler also says there is no indication either strain is resistant to current vaccines. He explains the the mutations change a handful of amino acids in a virus protein made up of 1,300. But the vaccine is built to interact with the entire thing.

“Think of it almost like Velcro, right?" Mohler says. "So if you had a whole bunch of different pieces of Velcro and it's sticking together, if you take one or two of those off, certainly it’s going to weaken the Velcro, but the Velcro is still likely going to work.”

Researchers say the discovery of the new variant in Columbus underscores how commonly viruses mutate and suggests similar changes could be happening independently around the world.

Ohio State has been sequencing virus samples since March of 2020 to track changes over time. Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of molecular pathology, says it's natural for viruses to mutate.

“The thing that’s concerning us a little bit is that over the course of the last three weeks, we are finding the virus with the three additional mutations more commonly in patient samples, and that suggests it may be able to spread or be more transmissible,” Jones says.