One year after the variant’s discovery, virologists are still scrambling to keep up with Omicron’s rapid evolution.

By Carl Zimmer

On Nov. 26, 2021, the World Health Organization announced that a concerning new variant of the coronavirus, known as Omicron, had been discovered in southern Africa. It soon swept to dominance across the world, causing a record-breaking surge in cases.

Now, a year later, Omicron still has biologists scrambling to keep up with its surprising evolutionary turns. The variant is rapidly gaining mutations. But rather than a single lineage, it has exploded into hundreds, each with resistance to our immune defenses and its own alphanumeric name, like XBB, BQ.1.1 and CH.1.

“It’s hard to remember what is what,” Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, said.

But unless some radically different variant emerges, Dr. Bloom predicted, this confusing jumble of subvariants will endure, making it more challenging for scientists to plan new vaccines and treatments.

Read Full Article by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times



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