Does the mutation identified in the UK have anything to do with those described earlier in the year?

Question asked on 12/21/2020


Recent announcements around a variant of the virus across the Channel raise the questions of several Internet users: is this not the change that Didier Raoult had mentioned several months ago? In early October, the Marseille professor had indeed claimed to have identified a variant of the virus that was not “Not as banal and benign as what we had in July August”, without these observations being corroborated by other teams. Several commentators therefore believe that the news confirms the professor’s statements. However, it is not.

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12,706 mutations identified

With each replication in an organism, the genetic code of coronaviruses can reproduce imperfectly. Each of these repeat abnormalities constitutes as many mutations which, most often, do not lead to any noticeable modification in the structure of the virus. In mid-November, a team of researchers identified in the journal Nature Communications the existence of 12,706 mutations for Sars-CoV-2. According to their analysis, none of them appeared to be associated with increased viral transmissibility. It should therefore be understood that, when we speak of the mutation discovered in the United Kingdom, it is only one among thousands of others.

This variant of the virus was the first identified in December 2020, which is reflected in the code assigned to it: VUI-202012/01 (VUI being the acronym for “Variant under investigation”). If it arouses particular interest in the scientific community, it is because it has been identified in a large number of British citizens through random samples in the territory. This particular variant therefore seems to diffuse rapidly, suggesting that its mutations give it increased transmissibility.

Maintenance of confusions

If Didier Raoult had communicated, a few months ago, around ten variants of Sars-CoV-2, it was unrelated to VUI-202012/01. Various observers had moreover disputed the idea according to which the mutations reported by the professor constituted a relevant fact and justified the use of the expression “mutated virus” – which suggests that the new mutations significantly modify the virus in terms of transmissibility, ease of infecting cells or resistance to treatment.

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Today, several supporters of Professor Raoult maintain the confusion between the announcements made in October and the British discovery in December. Ivan Rioufol, columnist at Figaro, has thus made a lawsuit on Twitter for incompetence against the director of the AP-HP, Martin Hirsch, recalling that he had contested “The virus mutation, described by @raoult_didier”. In response, Martin Hirsch called these comments “Pitiful manipulation”, “Very representative of what feeds social networks”.

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