Cyprus has reported a new strain of COVID which is found to be a combination of the Delta and Omicron variants.
The new variant, named Deltacron, was recently reported by Dr Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the laboratory of biotechnology and molecular virology.
Kostrikis’ team found that a group of 25 COVID patients in Cyprus were infected by the strain. The variant was called Deltacron as it carried genetic signatures resembling the Omicron variant within Delta genomes.
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Of the 25 samples, 11 belonged to people admitted to the hospital while 14 were from those in home isolation.
“There are currently Omicron and Delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two,” Kostrikis said at a recent interview to a TV channel.
The genetic sequences of the 25 patients were sent to GISAID, the international database tracking the virus, on January 7.
Kostrikis said only the future will determine if the strain is more contagious in nature and whether it will outlive the Delta and Omicron variants.
New variant or lab error?
Scientists, however, opine that Deltacron may not be a new variant and could be a possible case of lab error involving contaminated samples.
In a series of Twitter posts, virologist Tom Peacock from the Imperial College London said that the “Cypriot Deltacron” sequences reported by the media were clearly contamination as they show no aspects of a new variant.
“It is not real and is likely due to sequencing artifact (lab contamination of #Omicron sequence fragments in a #Delta specimen),” said Dr Krutika Kuppali, member of WHO’s COVID-19 technical team.
Making a similar assertion on Twitter, Dr Eric Topol, the founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in the US, called Deltracron a “scariant”, explaining that it scares people even though it is not a real variant.
Dr Kostrikis, however, has countered these reviews by stating that his findings support that deltacron is not a result of technical error in the lab. In a statement emailed to Bloomberg, he said the cases his team has identified, “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”
Recombination is an evolutionary process under which a virus like Sars-CoV-2 “allows two closely related viruses to mix-and-match their genomes into novel combinations.”
Dismissing comments about the samples being contaminated, he said, “Deltacron infection is higher among patients hospitalized for COVID than among non-hospitalised patients, so that rules out the contamination hypothesis.”
Also Read: Now Deltacron found infecting people in Cyprus
While no other country has reported the variant, the World Health Organisation too has not designated it yet.
Cyprus’ Health Minister Michael Hadjipantela has said that the variant is not concerning right now and more details about it would be divulged soon.