Deltacron: Scientist defends discovery of new Covid variant and says it is not just a lab test gone wrong

Some experts have dismissed findings and suspect it is a case of laboratory contamination

Namita Singh
Monday 10 January 2022 12:05
<p>Cypriots wait in line to receive the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a walk-in vaccination centre in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on 4 January</p>

Cypriots wait in line to receive the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a walk-in vaccination centre in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on 4 January

After reports of the emergence of a new coronavirus variant dubbed “Deltacron” triggered a backlash over the weekend, the Cypriot scientist who found it has defended himself and insisted that his results are accurate.

Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, said that the Deltacron variant has Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genome.

So far, 25 such cases have been identified. Of this, 11 samples came from those hospitalised due to the virus, while others came from the general public, reported the Cyprus Mail.

After it reported discovery trended on social media, some experts dismissed the findings and said they suspected it was only a case of laboratory contamination.

But defending himself, Dr Kostrikis said that 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”, according to Bloomberg.

He added that infections from Deltacron were higher among hospitalised Covid patients. This rules out the contamination hypothesis, he said.

He said the samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country, and added that at least one sequence from Israel, deposited in a global database, exhibits the same genetic characteristics of Deltacron.

“These findings refute the undocumented statements that Deltacron is a result of a technical error,” he said.

Soon after the findings were reported, Tom Peacock, a virologist at the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said the Deltacron variant was “quite clearly contamination”.

Dr Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases researcher with the World Health Organisation, also suspected contamination.

“Deltacron is not real and is likely due to sequencing artefact (lab contamination of Omicron sequence fragments in a Delta specimen),” she tweeted. “Let’s not merge names of infectious diseases and leave it to celebrity couples.”

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