The Covid-19 mutation rate in Bangladesh is faster than the global average rate, says a study based on data of 263 cases of genome sequencing.
It was recorded 12.6 percent in the study by Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), while the global average rate is 7.23 percent.
A mutation is a change in the virus’ genome: the set of genetic instructions that contain all the information that the virus needs to function, according to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership.
Mutations can have a negative or positive impact on the virus’ ability to survive and replicate, depending on where in the virus the genome mistakes occur.
Mutations can also change the characteristics of a virus, causing the original virus to either weaken or become more aggressive.
For the BCSIR study released yesterday, data on 263 cases of genome sequencing was collected from areas in eight divisions between May 7 and July 31 this year.
Analysing the data, researchers noticed the presence of variant G614 in all the cases, which is largely responsible for virus transmission in the country.
“The virus mutations analysed through the study are not like the ones seen in other countries. The virus here appears to be weaker,” BCSIR Principal Scientific Officer Md Salim Khan, who led the study team, told this newspaper.
According to the World Health Organisation, six major types of the novel coronavirus are found across the globe. And of those, four have been found in Bangladesh, said the BCSIR researchers.
To replicate, a virus uses a host cell where it leaves its genetic elements. This results in millions of copies of the virus in the human body cell.
However, errors can creep in during this process when the virus replicates and such types of incidents are called mutation of the virus.
As a mutation creates new subtypes of the virus, it makes the development of an effective vaccine or drug against it very difficult.
These different variants also explain why a virus can trigger waves of infections of varying severity in different regions of the world, and why infections can also progress very differently in different people, say researchers.
“Mutation in the virus is usual. But knowing the clinical features of the virus — severe or mild — is very important. Because, it helps devise a plan to suppress the transmission,” said noted virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, also member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
He pointed out that there is no study that says what types of virus strain are prevalent in different regions of the country.
“We are just getting information on virus mutations. We need to carry out a thorough study to fight the virus,” he added.
BCSIR officials said they sent their study report to 50 research organisations that are working on Covid-19 vaccine. Those include US biotech firm Moderna, Oxford University and Chinese firm Sinovac.
This will help the organisations develop vaccines fit for people in this region, they claimed.