New Delhi, Jun 03, 2020: Two variants of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) virus from China and Europe are most prevalent, according to researchers from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), who identified 198 variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus in India.
The most variants were found in Delhi, followed Gujarat, Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka, Hindustan Times reported.
“Scientists and scholars from ZSI have analysed nearly 400 genomes found in India and found at least 198 variants of the virus, which means the virus had mutated at least 198 times in India or before entering the country,” said Kailash Chandra, director, ZSI, Kolkata.
The study was conducted by a team of seven scientists from the Centre for DNA Taxonomy of ZSI, India’s apex organisation on animal taxonomy under the Union ministry of environment and forests.
The researchers analysed genomes from India in the GISAID global database between early March and the last week of May. On June 2, the database showed more than 37,000 genomes, of which at least 550 were from India.
“Plotting the variants on the country’s map, we found that states such as Delhi, Telengana and Gujarat were the most heterogeneous. Those in the northeast showed the least number of variants,” said Bhim Joshi, one of the researchers in the team.
Delhi recorded around 39 variants, while Ahmedabad in Gujarat alone recorded 60 variants, and 13 were found in Gandhinagar. At least 55 variants were found in Telengana. In Maharashtra and Karnataka, the team found around 15 variants each.
“We found that two variants or haplo-groups (a genetic population that share a common ancestor) are most dominant. While one came from Wuhan in China, the other is the European variant,” said Mukesh Thakur, a scientist with the Centre for DNA Taxonomy who headed the research team.
“Even though the initial variant had come from Italy, later variants from other countries in Europe also contributed heavily. Hence, we are calling it the European variant. Other variants, such as the ones which originated in Iran and Dubai, were found in (lower) numbers.”
India’s first Covid-19 case was a medical student evacuated from Wuhan, who tested positive on January 30, which reported the country’s first three cases. On March 2, two more cases of travellers back from Italy and Dubai were reported by the Union health ministry, following which the number of cases steadily increased.
“Of the nearly 200 variants we have spotted, one mutation was the most common. It has been named D614G. It was not the most prevalent mutation in India, but found in large numbers in Europe and the US. How the mutation has helped the virus, and whether its transmission modes have changed, need to be further studied,” said Abhishek Singh, another team member.
All viruses mutate with time, and studies from other countries shown that Sars-Cov-2 has also mutated. The mutations do not lead to easier or faster transmission, or make the disease less or more severe, but it helps scientists to understand the behaviour of the virus and also in developing an effective vaccine, said Joshi.