Over the weekend, just as the world was becoming increasingly confident that the more contagious but significantly milder omicron variant could lead to the end of the pandemic, news came of a possible new COVID-19 variant combining the genetic signatures of delta and omicron.
But health experts around the world already are casting doubt on the finding.
Bloomberg News reported Saturday that University of Cyprus researcher Leondios Kostrikis had discovered a strain appearing in 25 cases that he called “deltacron.”
However, a World Health Organization expert on COVID-19 said on Twitter that “deltacron” is “not real” and “is likely due to sequencing artifact,” meaning a variation introduced by a nonbiological process such as lab contamination, CNBC reported.
The WHO official, Krutika Kuppalli, said there likely was “lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen.” Virologist Dr. Tom Peacock of Imperial College London agreed, tweeting “the Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination.”
Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University in Atlanta, also agreed that contamination was the likely explanation. But she said a mixing of the omicron and delta genetic material is a possibility as both strains continue to circulate.
“Recombination can occur in coronaviruses,” she tweeted. “The enzyme that replicates their genome has a tendency to slip-off the RNA strand it is copying and then rejoining where it left off. With #delta and #omicron both in circulation, dual infection with both variants increases this concern.”
The Greek scientist, Kostrikis, responded to the global reaction, insisting to Bloomberg News that his findings were not the result of a “technical error.”
He said the identified cases “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”
The scientist further said the samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country. He said at least one sequence from Israel deposited in a global database exhibits genetic characteristics of “deltacron.”
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