Experts doubtful over emergence of 'Deltacron' variant

By Sola Ogundipe

Global health experts including the World Health Organisation, WHO, are doubtful over reports of a new potential COVID-19  strain  named “deltacron” – said to be  a combination of  the Delta  and Omicron variants.

They are saying that the  said “strain” is the result of an error from laboratory processing.

A researcher in Cyprus had reportedly discovered the said new variant. that  researchers had called  “deltacron,” because of its omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes.

READ ALSO: Experts doubtful over emergence of ‘Deltacron’ variant

According to Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology, he, along with his  team, had reported that they  found 25 cases of the mutation, but at that time, it was too early to tell whether there were more cases of the apparent new strain or what impact it could have.

A CNBC report said  that the findings had been sent to Gisaid, an international database that tracks changes in the virus.

A WHO official said that “deltacron”  is “not real” and “is likely due to sequencing artifact,” a variation introduced by a non-biological process.

WHO COVID-19 expert Dr. Krutika Kuppalli commented in a tweet that  in this case, there was likely to have been a “lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen.”

In another tweet, she noted “Let’s not merge of names of infectious diseases and leave it to celebrity couples”

Other scientists agreed that the findings could be the result of a lab error, with virologist Dr. Tom Peacock from Imperial College London also tweeting that “the Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination.”

He  noted that “quite a few of us have had a look at the sequences and come to the same conclusion it doesn’t look like a real recombinant,” referring to a possible rearrangement of genetic material.

Fatima Tokhmafshan, a geneticist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre agreed, saying “this is  not a recombinant” but “rather lab contamination looking at recent GISAID submission from Cyprus the clustering & mutational profile indicate  no mutation consensus.”

But the Cypriot scientist insists that  his discovery is genuine. He said that the cases he has identified “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”

Eleven of the 25 patients were hospitalised with COVID-19 and 14 remained among the general public, he noted.

“The higher deltacron infection rate among the patients hospitalised for Covid-19, compared with non-hospitalised patients, rules out the contamination hypothesis,” said Kostrikis.

The samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country. And at least one sequence from Israel deposited in a global database exhibits genetic characteristics of deltacron, he said.

“These findings refute the undocumented statements that deltacron is a result of a technical error,” he said.

Kostrikis and his team announced on Friday that they have identified 25 such cases. “There are currently omicron and delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two,” Kostrikis said in an interview.

The discovery was named “deltacron” due to the identification of omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes, he said.

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