The “Deltacron” option raises doubts among experts as a possible laboratory error

Covid lab technicians in India, Friday 7th January 2022

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Global health experts are questioning reports of a possible new mutation for Covid-19, which turned out to be a combination of delta and omicron variants dubbed “deltacron”, saying the “strain” is more likely the result of a laboratory processing error.

Over the weekend, it became known that a researcher in Cyprus had discovered a potential new variant. Bloomberg News reported on Saturday. that Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, named the strain “deltacron” because of its omicron-like genetic signatures in delta genomes.

Kostrikis and his team said they found 25 cases of the mutation, with the report adding that it was too early to tell at the time whether there were more cases of the apparent new strain or what impact it might have. Bloomberg said the results were sent to Gisaid, an international database that tracks changes in the virus, on January 7.

Deltacron “not real”

Since then, some experts have questioned the findings, with one World Health Organization spokesman tweeting Sunday that the “deltacron” trending on the social media platform over the weekend is “unreal” and “likely due to a sequencing artifact.” … variation introduced by a non-biological process.

WHO Covid expert Dr. Krutika Kuppalli said on Twitter that in this case, there was likely a “laboratory contamination with Omicron fragments in the Delta sample.”

In another tweet, she ironically remarked: “Let’s not combine the names of infectious diseases and leave that to famous couples.”

Other scientists agreed that the results could be the result of a laboratory error: virologist Dr. Tom Peacock of Imperial College London also tweeted that “the Cypriot Deltacron sequences reported by several major media outlets appear clearly contaminated.”

In another tweet, he noted that “many of us looked at the sequences and came to the same conclusion that this does not look like a real recombinant,” referring to the possible rearrangement of genetic material.

Fatima Tohmafshan, a geneticist at the Research Institute at McGill University Medical Center in Montreal, agreed, tweeting that “this is NOT a recombinant” but “rather a laboratory b / c infection.” [because] Looking at the recent GISAID application from Cyprus, the clustering and mutation profile indicate a lack of consensus on mutations. “

Another well-known scientist, Dr. Boguma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta, advised caution, tweeting on Sunday: 24 hours please interpret with caution. The information currently available indicates sample contamination rather than true recombination of the #delta and #omicron variants. “

However, she also noted that a possible mixing of delta and omicron genetic material is possible as both strains continue to circulate, which is a concern.

“Coronaviruses can recombine. The enzyme that replicates their genome tends to slide off the RNA strand it is copying and then reunite where it left off. #delta and #omicron both are in circulation, dual contamination with both options reinforces this concern, ”she tweeted.

For his part, the scientist who announced the deltacron discovery defended his findings by telling Bloomberg on Sunday that they were not the result of a “technical error.”

In a statement sent by email, Kostrikis said the cases he identified “indicate evolutionary pressure on an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations, rather than the result of a single recombination event.”

He also reportedly said that the results were obtained after samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country, and that at least one sequence from Israel deposited in the global database demonstrates the genetic characteristics of ‘deltacron “. CNBC has contacted Kostrikis for additional comments and has yet to receive a response.

Cyprus Health Minister Michael Hadjipantela said on Saturday that the ministry is aware of the deltacron reports and that there is nothing to worry about at the moment. according to local media reports

More details on the controversial option are due this week, Hadjipantela said, adding that he is proud of the country’s scientists for their discoveries.

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