Even those who are already quite dulled by ever new bad news from the coronavirus are likely to have listened for a moment: Last week, a researcher from the University of Cyprus announced that he had discovered a new variant of the coronavirus that combines the properties of Delta and Omicron.
Leonidos Kostrikis and his team have identified 25 cases which, according to the biology professor and head of the Biotechnology and Molecular Virology Laboratory at the University of Cyprus, are “Deltakron”, according to their creation.
Omikron is highly contagious and is now the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in many countries, such as Great Britain and the USA. Omikron is also spreading rapidly in Germany, and Delta will soon replace it as the most widespread variant worldwide. People infected with Delta were at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization than alpha patients.
According to Kostrikis, deltakron has genetic characteristics of omikron that appear in the delta genome.
“We will see in the future whether this variant leads to a more serious course of the disease or is more contagious, or whether it can prevail” against Delta and Omikron, Kostrikis told the Cypriot television station Sigma TV.
The emergence of a new variant that could potentially spread as quickly as Omikron or lead to more severe COVID cases sounds worrying. But internationally, experts doubt that Kostrikis’ research results are correct.
Discoverer: Deltakron no contamination
“The Cypriot ‘Deltakron’ sequences, which have been covered by several major media outlets, look pretty much like a case of contamination,” tweeted Thomas Peacock, a researcher at the Barclay Laboratory currently responsible for coronavirus research at Imperial College London . This is by no means a criticism of Kostrikis’ work – such mistakes happen every now and then in every gene sequencing laboratory, Peacock added in another tweet.
And still – it seems that Kostrikis didn’t want to let that sit on him like that. On Sunday he defended his results against the US news portal Bloomberg. In an email statement, the researcher wrote that the cases he discovered showed “evolutionary pressure” on an “archetype” of the virus. Under this pressure, the archetype developed the mutations that led Kostrikis to his conclusion that a combination of delta and omicron had taken place.
This combination, the Cypriot researcher emphasized again, was not the result of an isolated event – such as the contamination of samples. According to Kostrikis, the samples analyzed were sequenced in laboratories in several different countries.
Deltakron “almost certainly” is not a combination of two variants
So-called recombinant forms of viruses, such as Kostrikis’ putative Deltakron variant, are a well-known phenomenon in science. They arise when several variants of a virus are in circulation at the same time, as is currently the case with SARS-CoV-2.
The experts who are critical of Deltakron point out that all of the omicron mutations discovered in the Delta genome are located at a specific point in the genetic sequence. And this site is known to be prone to problems with certain sequencing processes.
Experts say Deltakron’s discovery could be traced back to genetic sequencing problems
Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK researched on this topic. Based on his results, he assumes that the putative Deltakron variant “is almost certainly not a biologically recombinant form of Delta and Omicron.”
Does that mean we can take a deep breath and just ignore the results from Cyprus? But it’s still a little early, says Timo Wolf, head of the infection ward at the Frankfurt University Hospital. He is currently optimistic, but cautious, according to the doctor.
“I don’t think there is strong evidence to suggest that [Deltakron] will be a huge problem, “said Wolf of DW. But global data like that of Kostrikis would have to be examined in detail.” To be absolutely sure, we will have to wait a few more weeks.