A new COVID-19 variant has been discovered in Cyprus. According to reports, it is a combination of two variants as samples displayed mutations found in Omicron and Delta. Therefore, medical experts have named the new variant Deltacron. Noting that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has yet not officially responded to the discovery of the variant, several scientists have pointed out that it is not a new strain but the result of lab contamination.
Here is everything you need to know about Deltacron.
What is the new strain?
Deltacron consists of samples from Delta and Omicron variants. Reportedly, ten of the mutations from Omicron were found in the 25 samples collected in Cyprus.
Speaking about the development, Leondios Kostrikis, head of the laboratory of biotechnology and molecular virology at the University of Cyprus, stated that the new strain was named Deltacron due to the identification of Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genome.
Where was the variant found?
It has been detected only in Cyprus as of now, that too in 25 samples. Out of these 25 samples, 11 of which were collected from patients who were hospitalised while the remaining were from the general population. Meanwhile, there has been no reports of Deltacron in other parts of the world.
A Bloomberg report stated that the findings from Cyprus have been sent to Gisaid, an international database that tracks changes in the virus.
How infectious is the new variant?
Kostrikis noted that infection from Deltacron is higher among hospitalised patients than non-hospitalised patients. However, the variant's true virulence cannot be ascertained yet.
Should we worry about Deltacron?
Experts have underlined that it is too early to know the impact of the new variant. Cypriot Health Minister Michael Hadjipantela also affirmed that Deltacron is not a concern. During an interview with Sigma TV, Kostrikis said Omicron has the potential to overtake Deltacron.
“We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious or if it will prevail against the two dominant strains, Delta and Omicron," he added. A section of medical experts is also maintaining that it is not even a variant.
Is it a recombinant virus or a ‘scariant’?
Nick Loman, a microbial genomics professor at England’s University of Birmingham, explained that recombinant virus is formed when multiple variants of a pathogen are circulating in the atmosphere. Speaking with Bloomberg, Loman added that findings from Cyprus about the new variant are more likely “technical artefact” that may have been generated in the process of sequencing the viral genome.
On the other hand, Eric Topol, a physician and Molecular biologist Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, termed Deltacron a ‘scariant’. According to him, it is a new subtype of ‘scariant’ that is not a real variant but can cause scare among the people.
Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, tweeted that the Deltacron sequences appear more like contamination, adding that they do not “cluster on a phylogenetic tree and have a whole Artic primer sequencing amplicon of Omicron in an otherwise Delta backbone.”
"When new variants come through sequencing, lab contamination isn’t that uncommon (very very tiny volumes of liquid can cause this) — just usually these fairly clearly contaminated sequences are not reported by major media outlets,” Peacock wrote on Twitter.
He added that it is important to keep an eye on recombinants. However, this particular example is almost definitely contamination, he said.
Agreeing with Peacock’s assertion, WHO COVID expert Krutika Kuppalli said the new variant is likely a “lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen.”
“There is no such thing as Deltacron. Omicron and Delta did not form a super variant. This is likely sequencing artefact (lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen),” she tweeted.
Fatima Tokhmafshan, a geneticist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta, also backed the current data noting that the new variant is a lab contamination rather than a mutation.
Cyprus researcher denies lab contamination
However, Kostrikis has denied reports of lab contamination, noting that samples were processed in more than one country. He added that at least one sequence from Israel deposited in a global database exhibits genetic characteristics of Deltacron.
"These findings refute the undocumented statements that Deltacron is a result of a technical error. The infection is higher among hospitalised patients 19 than the non-hospitalised patients, which rules out the contamination hypothesis, Kostrikis said.