May 24, 2024

All living organisms have proteins called nucleotides. When these nucleotides are arranged, they form nucleic acids – RNA and DNA. The sequence or arrangement of nucleotides determine the genetic code of living organisms – animals, bacteria, and viruses.
These codes become the basis – like a pattern – on which building blocks or parts of an organism are formed. These codes can be “copy-pasted” in order for the organism to repair its parts and to grow to replicate.
In complex organisms like human beings, DNA and RNA codes are used to produce – for example – blood cells to replace old ones, for hair growth, wound healing, and other cellular processes. Simpler organisms like viruses and bacteria use RNA codes to replicate or multiply.
The codes are unique and specific, normally fixed or permanent. However, factors like chemicals or changes in the environment can trigger changes in the genetic codes. These are called mutations. For example, if an organism initially thrives with the code “abc-def-ghi,” the code is continuously used for survival, replication, and transmission.
If the organism’s survival or replication is stunted by factors like extremely cold climate or changes in a host, changes in the genetic code of the organism occur. The code can then become “axc-def-ghi” – which will be the template for the formation of organisms with structures for traits like better survival or more rapid transmission. Mutations in the genetic code of the virus thus occur in order for the virus to adapt and survive. The viruses with the new codes and newer traits are called “new strains” or variants.
In the case of the SARS-CoV2, mutations led to the formation of new strains that transmit more rapidly. There are new strains reported in England, then in South Africa and Brazil. It is being studied if the mutations led to more virulent or deadlier viral strains. The issue on whether the vaccines are effective against the new strains is still being studied.
The results of studies on the effect of vaccines on new strains will be varied because we have different types of vaccines like messenger RNA, attenuated, and adenoviral types. These will induce active immunity in which a person will develop antibodies against the strain of virus against which the vaccine was prepared. There are also new studies now on the effect of prepared antibodies against the virus. This is called passive immunity.
While we await conclusive studies, the best approach we must do is still to observe basic infection control and preventive measures. Get updates from the World Health Organization, Department of Health, public and government advisories, and trusted sources.
Be on guard against fake news.