Study: Omicron could be more transmissible due to sharing genetic material with common cold
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The Omicron variant may have evolved from the virus associated with the common cold, researchers from Cambridge, Massachusetts said in a preliminary study published Friday that suggests the variant may be much more transmissible than previously thought.
Nference, a biomedical company, has released data showing Omicron has genetic material similar to HCoV-229E, a human coronavirus that causes cold symptoms. Researchers believe that Omicron evolved from a person who was "co-infected" with Sars-CoV-2 and HCoV-229E.
The study authors found viruses in both gastrointestinal and respiratory tissues of infected people. They wrote that "genomic interaction" or the exchange of genetic material could have led to the creation of Omicron. No other Sars-coV-2 variants have similar cross-genetic material with HCoV-229E.
Nference also compared omicron's genetic material to other Sars-CoV-2 variants, including the highly transmissible and dominant Delta variant. They found that Omicron harbors 26 mutations that are different from the variant.
Omicron first appeared in South Africa on November 24, before spreading to more than two dozen countries on six continents, including the United States, in about a week.
The variant has not yet been declared more deadly or communicable by the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but its spread - much faster than Delta - has alarmed the world and public health experts. The United States is one of a number of countries that restrict travel from several southern African countries.
In South Africa, which had been in a lull before Omicron was discovered, cases rose from about 2,000 daily on Thanksgiving to more than 11,000 daily on Thursday.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said during a press conference Wednesday that the timeliness and portability of Omicron, as well as the ability of vaccines to combat it, are still unclear.
"We will get this information," he added. "We'll get a lot more information."
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