Great Britain. Scientists have identified a new version of the omicron. It is “invisible” to PCR testing

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The invisible version has many mutations in common with the standard omicron. However, it lacks one particular genetic variation that allows the use of PCR-type tests to mark the virus as a possible omicron variant and subject it to full genetic sequencing for confirmation.

This version is still detected as a coronavirus by all common tests, and can be identified as an omicron through genetic sequencing, but catching probable cases through PCR testing greatly accelerated the identification of the omicron variant

explains The Guardian.

The researchers point out that it is too early to predict whether the new version of the 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.

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“Invisible Omicron”

The discovery of a new form of the omicron prompted researchers to divide line B.1.1.529 into a standard omicron, designated BA.1, and a newer variant – BA.2. – There are two lines within the omicron, BA.1 and BA.2, which are quite genetically different. These two lines may behave differently – believes prof. Francois Balloux, director of the Institute of Genetics at University College London.

As The Guardian explains, scientists use genome-wide analysis to confirm which coronavirus variant caused the infection, but PCR testing can sometimes give a clue. About half of the PCR machines in the UK look for three viral genes, but the omicron, like the alpha variant, tests positive on only two of them. This is because the omicron has a genetic change called a deletion in the spike gene. Detection of this deletion by PCR suggests that it is an omicron variant. The new version, however, does not have this change, thus 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 distinct 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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