University of Florida immunologist finds mutations in coronavirus omicron variant that may enhance its transmissibility

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COVID-19 omicron variant mutations
The coronavirus spike protein (shown in gray) as bound to host receptor ACE2 (cyan). Mutations in omicron are shown in blue. Modeling suggests that the innate immune response protein LLRC15 (orange) interacts with sites mutated in omicron. By University of Florida.

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A researcher at the University of Florida has found that the coronavirus omicron variant has more mutations than the delta variant at several key sites. Those changes could make omicron more transmissible.

David A. Ostrov Ph.D.

On WMNF’s Tuesday Café, Seán Kinane interviewed University of Florida Health researcher David A. Ostrov Ph.D. He is an immunologist who has mapped the mutations of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. He is an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine.

Listen to the full show here:

In addition to his research, we talked about how the different vaccines work against the virus. And why scientists are studying the mutations in the omicron variant.

Omicron mutations

According to a press release from UF, Dr. Ostrov found that “omicron has substantially more mutations than the delta variant at four key sites.” At least one of those sites has more than three times as many mutations and may affect omicron’s transmissibility.

In addition, the “virus appears to be mutating in unexpected places.” That helps it “evade a protein known as a co-receptor,” which sometimes “can stop viruses from infecting a cell.”

Omicron has seven mutations in region involved in virus transmissibility

“I actually was able to recognize a pattern of mutations that is involved with virus transmissibility that others in the world have yet to appreciate,” Dr. Ostrov told WMNF. “Because others had not appreciated it, I wrote a paper, which was published — about two weeks ago now — describing patterns of emerging mutations in the coronavirus.

“In other variants of interest — for example, let’s say, the alpha variant — there are three mutations in this special pattern that no one else had yet to appreciate.

“Delta had two mutations in its transmissibility pattern that no one had appreciated.

“Omicron has seven mutations in this important pattern involved in transmissibility.”

UF interferes with researchers?

WMNF also asked Dr. Ostrov about a recent report from a UF Faculty Senate committee. It ‘describes “external pressure to destroy” data as well as “barriers” to accessing, analyzing and publishing the numbers,”’ according to the Tampa Bay Times.

He indicated the University of Florida had been supportive of his research and had not interfered.

Here’s a short video clip of part of the interview:

Also on the show, we spoke with Orlando-area State Representative Anna Eskamani.

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