Reports of a new suspected Covid-19 mutation, termed “deltacron,” that is apparently considered to be a combination of characteristics of both the delta and omicron variants, are being questioned by global health experts, who believe that the so-called “strain” is more likely the consequence of a lab processing error.
The probable new variety was discovered by a researcher in Cyprus over the weekend, according to reports. The strain was dubbed “deltacron” by Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, because of its omicron-like genetic signals within the delta genomes, according to Bloomberg News.
According to the study, Kostrikis and his team discovered 25 cases of the mutation, but it was too early to say whether there were additional cases of the apparent new strain or what influence it might have at the time. The findings were sent to Gisaid, an international database that tracks changes in the virus, on Jan. 7, according to Bloomberg.
Some experts have questioned the findings, with one World Health Organization official tweeting on Sunday that the term “deltacron,” which was trending on Twitter over the weekend, is “not genuine” and “likely due to sequencing artefact,” a mutation introduced by a non-biological mechanism.
In this case, there was likely to have been a “lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen,” WHO Covid expert Dr. Krutika Kuppalli said on Twitter.
“Let’s not merge of names of infectious diseases and leave it to celebrity couples,” she noted in another tweet.
Other experts concur that the findings could be the result of a laboratory error, with Imperial College London virologist Dr. Tom Peacock tweeting that “the Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by numerous prominent media organisations look to be quite plainly contamination.”
“Quite a few of us have had a look at the sequences and come to the same conclusion it doesn’t look like a real recombinant,” he noted in another tweet while referring to a possible rearrangement of genetic material.
According to a tweet from Fatima Tokhmafshan, a geneticist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre agreed, “this is NOT a recombinant” but “rather lab contamination b/c [because] looking at recent GISAID submission from Cyprus the clustering & mutational profile indicate NO mutation consensus.”
A cautionary approach about the suspected new variant was suggested to be taken by another high-profile scientist, Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University in Atlanta.
“On the #deltacron story, just because I have been asked about it many times in the last 24h, please interpret with caution. The information currently available is pointing to contamination of a sample as opposed to true recombination of #delta and #omicron variants,” Titanji tweeted.
However, she also mentioned that, while both strains continue to circulate, a possible mixing of genetic material from the delta and omicron forms is a possibility, which is a worrying prospect.
“Recombination can occur in coronaviruses. The enzyme that replicates their genome has a tendency to slip-off the RNA strand it is copying and then rejoining where it left off. With #delta and #omicron both in circulation, dual infection with both variants increases this concern,” she tweeted.
The scientist who announced the discovery of “deltacron,” for his part, has defended his results, telling Bloomberg on Sunday that they are not the result of a “technical error.”
the cases he has identified “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event,” Kostrikis told the media in an emailed statement.
(Adapted from BBC.com)