Authors: Tao T, Tzou1 PL, Nouhin J, Gupta RK, de Oliveira T, Pond SLK, Fera D, Shafer RW
The past several months have witnessed the emergence of SARS- CoV-2 variants with novel spike protein mutations that are influencing the epidemiological and clinical aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These variants can increase rates of virus transmission and/or increase the risk of reinfection and reduce the protection afforded by neutralizing monoclonal antibodies and vaccination. These variants can therefore enable SARS- CoV-2 to continue its spread in the face of rising population immunity while maintaining or increasing its replication fitness. The identification of four rapidly expanding virus lineages since December 2020, designated variants of concern, has ushered in a new stage of the pandemic. The four variants of concern, the Alpha variant (originally identified in the UK), the Beta variant (originally identified in South Africa), the Gamma variant (originally identified in Brazil) and the Delta variant (originally identified in India), share several mutations with one another as well as with an increasing number of other recently identified SARS- CoV-2 variants. Collectively, these SARS- CoV-2 variants complicate the COVID-19 research agenda and necessitate additional avenues of laboratory, epidemiological and clinical research.