June 22, 2021: HPI and UKE researchers study origin of viral mutations

Tuesday, 22. June 2021

How do virus variants arise and how do they spread? This is one of the key questions of a new research project initiated jointly by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology (HPI) and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). Particularly significant in this regard is the fact that for example the SARS-CoV-2 variants alpha and delta spread significantly faster than the original virus.

An unusually high number of mutations in alpha variant B.1.1.7 has led researchers to believe that this variant may have evolved in a person with a chronic SARS-CoV-2 infection. This could have been, for example, an immunosuppressed person on antiviral therapy. "However, the dynamics with which new variants evolve or manifest during infection and subsequent transmission events are not well understood," explains Prof. Dr. Nicole Fischer, Institute of Medical Microbiology, Virology and Hygiene at the UKE. "In the project, we are therefore addressing the origin of SARS-CoV-2 variants by systematically and comprehensively investigating the emergence and transmissibility of variants in a significant number of samples from local infection clusters." In addition to sample collections from the UKE, particular use will be made of a SARS-CoV-2 genome surveillance platform that the HPI and the UKE have established in close collaboration with local health authorities. Prof. Fischer: "We expect that our data will make an important contribution to understanding the emergence of complex viral variants."

The project "Emergence and Origin of SARS-CoV-2 Mutations - Intrahost SARS-CoV-2 Genetic Diversity in Immunocompetent and Immunosuppressed Patients" is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the focus grant COVID-19 for one year with 163,250 Euros.


Contact at the HPI: Prof. Adam Grundhoff