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Cypriot scientist dismisses lab mistake claims over Deltacron strain

Christian Fernsby |
Claims that the discovery of a possible new strain of COVID-19 is the result of a lab mistake have been refuted by the professor responsible for detecting the variant.

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Cypriot Professor of Biological Sciences Leondios Kostrikis announced last week that he had discovered a new strain of coronavirus combining characteristics of the Delta and Omicron variants, which he named Deltacron.

However, while Kostrikis told CyBC state television that the "lab mistake" claim was incorrect, he conceded that his announcement about Deltacron may have been misunderstood as meaning that a recombination of the two mutations, the Delta and the Omicron, had been discovered.

In fact, his laboratory team had found that the Delta strain had a tendency to acquire mutations which are characteristic of the Omicron variant.

Kostrikis had said in his original announcement that the 25 samples identified as Deltacron presented seven mutations which are characteristic of the Omicron variant.

"Specifically, these mutations are located within the gene corresponding to the coronavirus protein spike. These new strains of the coronavirus were named Deltacron because of the presence of Omicron genetic traits within the Delta genome," Kostrikis said.

Nick Loman, a microbial genomics professor at England's University of Birmingham, attributed the findings of Kostrikis' team to a "technical artifact" that arose in the process of sequencing the viral genome. A recombinant form of Delta and Omicron would not be a complete surprise, he added.

Kostrikis replied to the criticism by saying that in addition to the sequencing of the samples identified as Deltacron, his teams have also rigorously checked out the possibility of a lab mistake.

His scientific team at the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology of the state University of Cyprus began examining COVID-19 samples in November 2021, with a view to finding out which strains of coronavirus were affecting Cyprus.

"By the middle of December the samples sequenced started indicating an increasing trend of the virus to create mutations to the S protein, which is characteristic of the Omicron variant," Kostrikis said.

"We noticed an increasing polymorphism in the samples until it became clear that the samples under examination showed markedly increased signatures of the Omicron variant," he added.

In addition to the original 25 samples, a further 27 samples had confirmed the increased trend of the Delta strain to acquire characteristics of the Omicron variant, Kostrikis said, adding that a paper on the findings of his team will be published soon.


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