Spanish scientists from the University of Valencia and the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research obtained the coronavirus genome and studied the mutations compared to the original Fernando González, one of the researchers from the University of Valencia who participated in the study, consulted by El Confidencial said: “The genome of the virus is in continuous mutation, and that is precisely what allows us to follow its trajectory in different countries and transmission routes. The isolated patients that we have sequenced in Valencia differ in six, one and nine mutations of the virus originally sequenced in Wuhan.
“But this is normal: almost all the viruses that have been sequenced so far have some differences with the first one.
“The one that has more differences is in Brazil with 16 mutations.”
The coronavirus that infected more than 80,000 people in China, and killed more than 3,200, is not exactly the same one that has infected 27,980 Italians, nor the one that 11,300 Spaniards contracted.
As it spreads and goes from one country to another, it undergoes mutations.
This was verified this week by researchers from the University of Valencia and the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research in the Valencian Community, who obtained the first genomes of the virus in Spain, from samples from three patients.
In this way, they were able to compare them with the genome identified by Chinese scientists on January 14, and by those isolated in many other countries in recent weeks.
The most important revelation of the mutations detected in Spain is that they are not associated with factors of greater or less lethality than the original genome of the virus.
The University of Valencia in a statement said: “The conclusion that has been reached after the analysis carried out is that, until now, no mutation has been found associated with greater virulence, lethality, or some interesting property from a clinical point of view.”
Italian researchers came to the same conclusion.
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Massimo Galli, responsible for infectious diseases at the Sacco hospital in Milan, who isolated the virus genome when it began to spread in Italy, has found that COVID-19 has mutated “two or three times” in Italian territory, but without changing its lethality.
He said: “There are always mutations in the RNA molecule in these viruses, but we do not believe that these can cause greater virulence.”
These claims go in line with the genetic map of the virus that his team, along with Milan State University, isolated in early March.
Some thought that the mutations could explain that in Lombardy, the country’s economic engine, the positive case rate is 90 per 100,000 inhabitants, much higher than that of Veneto, with 36.2 per 100,000.
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But Mr Galli dismissed it, and said: “There is nothing specific about the coronavirus strain in Lombardy, it is the same as that of Veneto and that of other regions.”
Lombardy, whose capital is Milan, the country’s economic centre, registers a very high rate of death, with almost 10 percent of deaths over the total number of infected, something that is explained by the advanced age of its population and because not all infected are diagnosed, which would reduce the percentage.
For Galli, another determining factor in the devastation caused by the coronavirus in the region is that it spent “a month circulating unnoticed in Lombardy”.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega, Foreign Content Specialist.