The invisible version shares many of the mutations in common with the standard Omicron, but lacks one particular genetic change that allows the use of PCR-type testing to mark the virus as a possible Omikron variant and subject it to full genetic sequencing to confirm this.
This version is still detected as a coronavirus by all standard tests, and can be identified as Omikron through genetic sequencing, but catching probable cases through PCR testing greatly accelerated the identification of the Omikron variant, explains The Guardian.
The researchers point out that it is too early to predict whether the new version of Omicron will spread in the same way as the standard version, but they say it is genetically distinct and may behave differently.
This version was first noticed among the coronavirus samples sent in recent days from South Africa, Australia and Canada, but may already be spreading further. Of the seven cases identified so far, none come from the UK.
This is because the Omicron, like Alpha, has a genetic change called a deletion in the spike gene. Detection of this deletion by PCR suggests that it is an Omikron variant. The new version, however, does not have this change, hence scientists informally called it the “invisible Omicron”.
One of the main unknowns is how the new version was created. While still classified as an Omicron, it is so genetically different that if it spreads rapidly, it could be considered a worrying variant. And according to the researchers, the emergence of two separate versions, BA.1 and BA.2, at a rapid pace from shared mutations would be disturbing, the journal writes.
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