10 Jan 2022 14:32

Deltacron variant of novel coronavirus could be lab mistake - Rospotrebnadzor expert

MOSCOW. Jan 10 (Interfax) - It would be premature to define the Deltacron strain detected in Cyprus as a new variant of the novel coronavirus, as it might be a lab mistake, Kamil Khafizov, head of the research group developing new sequencing-based diagnostic methods at the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) Central Research Institute of Epidemiology, said.

"Indeed, 25 sequences of a new coronavirus 'variant' were deposited in the GISAID international database on January 7, 2022. [...] A more thorough examination showed that they looked like a laboratory contamination, i.e. a contamination of one sample with another," Khafizov told reporters on Monday.

Detailed studies will need to be conducted to establish whether this is really a new coronavirus variant or not, he said.

"It would be premature to speak about features of the new strain and the efficacy of testing kits and vaccines. First, we need to understand whether this is a new hybrid or a laboratory contamination, especially as nothing of the sort has been detected by other laboratories," Khafizov said.

Such a mistake could have been made in a lab, "as failure to follow certain working regulations could have produced such a blend of variants, and if a not very experienced specialist later analyzed it, the resulting genomes might have contained properties of both strains," he said.

"When there was only the Delta variant around, this didn't pose any problem, as the contamination of one Delta with another Delta still produces Delta. When a significant portion of the samples is Omicron and the other Delta, their contamination might produce a blend of variants. As some of the 25 sequences contain weird mutations that make the virus incapable of replicating, a laboratory contamination is quite possible," he said.

A number of media outlets reported on January 8 that researchers in Cyprus identified a hybrid of the Delta and Omicron variants, which they dubbed Deltacron. This variant was supposedly detected in 25 lab samples, including 11 taken from hospitalized patients and the other 14 from individuals tested for Covid-19.