One step ahead of humans

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One step ahead of humans

 KANG KI-HEON
The author is an industry 1 team reporterof the JoongAng Ilbo.


The Covid-19 virus has found a new evolutionary path. The world is rapidly gearing up to respond to the sudden course change. The World Health Organization (WHO) convened a specialist meeting on Nov. 26 and officially named the mutant virus Omicron. (Omicron is the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.) The official name of the virus variant is SARS-CoV-2 variant (B.1.1.529).

Just like the Delta variant, Omicron targets the weakest link. The new variant was first reported on Nov. 24 in South Africa, detected in a sample collected on Nov. 9, according to the WHO. The two-week gap was due to a shortcoming in the virus testing method. The PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, test selects and amplifies only virus-specific genes for identification. Among dozens of viral genetic indicators, only two or three that can identify coronaviruses are selected and analyzed. Testing all genes requires significantly increased time and costs.

Summing up the WHO announcements and other reports, Omicron is a genetic mutation where one of the three coronavirus indicators is not found. That means there may be Omicron cases that cannot be detected with existing test methods. Humanity’s defense against the virus with our latest technologies had a gap, as can be seen in Britain and Belgium, where Omicron cases were found later. Suspected Omicron cases have also been reported in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Omicron is known to cause more than 30 mutations in the spike protein that determines the intensity of spread, which is twice the Delta variant. According to the WHO, some Omicron variants are concerning. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that the landing of Omicron in the U.S. was a given fact. There are speculations that Omicron can neutralize vaccine defense with various genetic mutations, which needs further research to confirm.

The appearance of Omicron proved at least one thing. Scholars’ predictions on Covid-19 virus variants were wrong. Omicron is telling us that a new form of virus can emerge anytime. Nature is one step ahead of humans.
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