Two variants of the novel coronavirus have reportedly merged their genomes to form a new hybrid of the deadly disease. The combined viruses, which is known as a "recombination" event, has sparked fears that yet another threat in the COVID-19 pandemic is on the horizon.
According to New Scientist, the hybrid mutation was discovered in a sample from California and was described by the publication as "heavily mutated." The variant is believed to be a combination of the highly contagious strain that originated in the United Kingdom along with one that is believed to have formed in California.
As was recently covered by The Inquisitr, scientists have recently warned that recent data on the U.K. strain have found the virus to range from 30 to 70 percent more lethal than the original coronavirus which first emerged in Wuhan in 2019.
Though less is known about the California strain, it is theorized that the mutation is the cause behind a recent spike in cases in Los Angeles and has helped propel the golden state to have the highest COVID-19 death toll in the country.
More research needs to be done to official verify the hybrid recombination. However, Bette Korber, who discovered the mutation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, claimed that the merger was "pretty clear" when looking at the two coronaviruses' genome libraries. Moreover, a hybrid virus has long been anticipated by virologists as viral combinations is a hallmark of coronaviruses.
Oftentimes, these hybrid variants can be more dangerous than the original strains, and scientists have expressed their worries that combined versions could be a major step backwards in the fight against the disease. That said, it is not yet known how effective the newfound hybrid is. In addition, it is not known if it is widespread.
"This kind of event could allow the virus to have coupled a more infectious virus with a more resistant virus," Korber said.
Dr. Sergei Pond, who works at the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine at Temple University in Pennsylvania, has hypothesized that the new hybrid was likely created because individuals can be infected with two strains at the same time.
"We may be getting to the point when this is happening at appreciable rates," he explained. Though Pond added there is still no evidence of widespread recombination, he warned that "coronaviruses all recombine, so it's a question of when, not if."
The coronavirus has infected 109 million around the globe and claimed over 2.4 million lives.