The omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has taken over the world, spreading rapidly and worrying scientists and public health officials. A recent study published in Nature sheds light on why omicron differs from previous variants and how it manages to spread so quickly.
The study, conducted by a team of international scientists led by Amin Addetia, Young-Joon Park, Luca Picolli and James Brett Case, examined the characteristics of omicron variants. They found that these variants have a higher affinity for the receptor on host cells, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), allowing them to attach more tightly and invade cells more efficiently than previous variants.
“The omicron variants that have become dominant in the last year have a high affinity for the ACE2 receptor and are able to fuse with the cell membrane and invade cells much more efficiently than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants,” explained Professor David Wisler, one of the lead authors of the study.
This increased efficiency of cell invasion is one of the factors contributing to the rapid spread of omicron.” In addition, the study found that omicron variants are able to elude many antibodies induced by previous infections and vaccines. This ability to bypass antibodies allows the virus to re-infect people infected with previous variants and break through the immune defenses provided by vaccines.
There is some good news, however. Researchers have found that previous infection or vaccination produces antibodies that recognize certain proteins found in new variants of the virus. While the neutralizing activity of most antibodies against earlier variants declines against omicron, one antibody called S309 remains effective.
“This immune response may explain why previous infection with earlier variants or vaccination against them reduces the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death when re-infected with the newer variant,” Wiesler added.
The results of this study emphasize the importance of ongoing research and vigilant monitoring of the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants. As the virus continues to mutate, it is critical to understand the unique characteristics of each variant and to develop strategies to control their spread.”