HOUSTON METHODIST

First large genomic study of coronavirus shows the more dominant strain is more infectious

Nov. 25, 2020

Researchers at Houston Methodist Hospital recently sequenced the genomes of more than 5,000 SARS-CoV-2 virus strains that caused two massive COVID-19 disease waves in Houston. It is the largest study of the virus’ genomic sequence in the United States thus far, and it suggests that mutations on the surface of the virus might make the predominant strand more transmissible.

The research was published in mBio, an open access journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.

According to the study, patients infected with a strain known as Gly614 had significantly higher virus loads in their respiratory tracts. Because of the high virus load associated with this strain, and because it showed up as the dominant strain in Houston’s second wave of the pandemic, there is a possibility that it is better adapted to spreading among humans.

Findings from this study will help us understand the origin of the virus strains affecting different communities, the make-up of the genomic structure of the virus, and how future infection waves might behave. Importantly, the study will also help us understand how our human immune system might respond to potential therapeutics designed to attack this virus, even while it continues to evolve.

Scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine, the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Texas at Austin contributed to the study. The research was funded by Houston Methodist Hospital and Houston Methodist Research Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Welch Foundation.

See additional coverage of the study at the Washington Post.