A new study showed why the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus appears to be spreading faster than the South African strain.
Researchers at the Oncode Institute in the Netherlands examined the spike proteins of the coronavirus, which enable the virus to attach to human enzymes.
The spike protein in the U.K. variant contains a mutation, known as N501Y, that results in a ninefold stronger binding to enzymes when compared to the original coronavirus.
UK CORONAVIRUS VARIANT MAY HAVE BEEN SPREADING SOONER IN THE US THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT: CDC STUDY
The South African variant also has that mutation on its spike protein. However, it contains another mutation, known as K417N, that “destabilizes the interaction with [enzymes] through a combination of slower binding and faster dissociation,” according to the study. This results in a binding that is only three times stronger than the original strain.
This may explain why the U.K. variant has spread more widely than the South African one. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 1,661 cases of the U.K. variant in 44 states in the United States, while the South African strain has been confirmed in 22 cases in 10 states. The CDC projects that the U.K. strain will become the dominant one in the U.S. by March.
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The World Health Organization reported that 94 nations have discovered cases with the U.K. strain but only 46 nations for the South African one.