Doug Erickson | Santa Cruz Works | January 6, 2021

We asked Mark Akeson to give us some insights prior this event. Mark Akeson is a Professor of Biomolecular Engineering and a member of the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. He is a co-inventor of nanopore sequencing which is used worldwide for SARS-CoV-2 genome analysis. He is a scientific advisor to Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Oxford UK.

SCW: What is a virus mutation?

Mark Akeson: Let me say first, so there is no mistake, COVID-19 is a mortal crisis for our community. It is a duty for all of us to control the spread of infections as much as possible. When I see someone wearing a mask I know that they care about their family and my family.

Basically viruses contain a genome (RNA or DNA ) that encodes proteins that determine how the virus infects humans and how dangerous it is. Mutations in viral genomes are uncommon and random — usually they don’t matter. But once in a while they will alter a viral protein that makes the virus spread more quickly or makes it more harmful to an infected person. For example, a mutation in the spike protein of the new UK SARS-CoV-2 variant caused it to spread more quickly, however it does not appear to cause more severe disease. A new South African SARS-CoV-2 variant also spreads more quickly because of changes in the spike protein. Scientists still don’t know if causes more severe disease.

I want to emphasize for all of these known SARS-CoV-2 variants, masks, handwashing, and social distancing are crucial.

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