Deltacron: New variant or laboratory error?

Social networks have recently been full of news that scientists in Cyprus have claimed to have found a new hybrid variant of SARS-CoV-2. Named Deltacron, it seems to be a combination of Delta and Omicron variants. However, other experts question whether this is indeed a new variant, suggesting that the finding could be due to contamination during laboratory tests. Micro B Life considers arguments from both sides.

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Is there a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 at large? Image credit: Jason Alden / Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Scientists in Cyprus reported on January 7 that they had discovered a new variant of SARS-CoV-2. The variant, called Deltacron, is reportedly a hybrid of Delta and Omicron.

The scientists are led by Dr. Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus.

Dr. Kostrikis reported that the variant has a Delta-image genome with Omicron features. The team said Deltacron was identified in 25 people – some hospitalized and some in the community.

Claims of laboratory contamination

Deltacron’s identification has led to widespread news coverage and much debate on social media, but experts have questioned the findings.

Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK, believes the findings are the result of a laboratory error.

“This is almost certainly not the biological recombinant lineage of Delta and Omicron,” he says. “Obvious Omicron mutations are found exactly and exclusively in the part of the sequence that encodes a spiky gene (amino acids 51 to 143) that is affected by a technological artifact in certain sequencing processes.”

Writing on Twitter, Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London in the UK, also dismissed the findings, saying that “[t]The Cypriot sequences of ‘Deltacron’ reported by several major media outlets seem quite clear of contamination. “

In a separate tweet, however, he clarified that this was not due to poor laboratory practice, stating that this “occasionally happens to every sequencing laboratory”.

Evolutionary evidence seems to support their comments. Several experts stated that, if Deltacron was indeed a new recombinant variant, samples would be collected on the same branch of SARS-CoV-2. phylogenetic tree.

However, Deltacron appears randomly on several branches, which experts say is a sure sign of contamination.

Finds defended

However, Dr. Kostrikis defended his findings. He argued that the contamination hypothesis was less likely as Deltacron infection rates were higher in hospitalized patients than in non-hospitalized individuals.

In addition, samples identified as Deltacron were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country, reducing the likelihood of laboratory errors, he noted.

The Cypriot team has since reported 52 more Deltacron cases Cyprus Post. The Cypriot health minister also defended the findings, saying a revolutionary study had made him “proud of our scientists”.

Call for more evidence

While many experts have rejected claims that Deltacron is a new hybrid variant, others are willing to wait for more evidence.

Talking to Micro B life, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, commented that “[f]Further local epidemiological investigation in Cyprus is needed to address this. The world must be watching. ”

“Deltakron has attracted a lot of interest in the COVID scientific community. Whether this is indeed a new variant resulting from the combination of Delta and Omicron viruses from co-infection in humans or due to a laboratory accident remains to be determined. ”

– Dr. William Schaffner

The question is whether this evidence will come from Cyprus or elsewhere. MBL contacted Dr. Kostrikis, but was still awaiting a response when this article came out.

Meanwhile, Cypriot health authorities said the new variant was not a cause for concern. So even if Deltacron exists, the little evidence that exists so far suggests that we should not worry too much about it.

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