The science behind virus mutations and why they matter

Since the early days of the pandemic, scientists have been tracking changes in the genetic code of the coronavirus.

All viruses naturally mutate, and Sars-CoV-2 is no exception, accumulating an estimated one or two changes a month.

Mutations are generally a chance event that will have little impact on the properties of a virus.

Most are merely “passengers”, says Dr Lucy van Dorp, an expert in the evolution of pathogens at University College London (UCL).

“Mutations are in fact rarely a bad thing,” she explains.

“The very vast majority of mutations which we observe in genomes of Sars-CoV-2 are there as passengers.

“They don’t change the behaviour of the virus, they are just carried along.”

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