What Is A Viral Variant?

Every time a genome is replicated, there’s a chance that an error will be introduced. This is true for all life forms. On a small scale, these mutations can lead to genetic diseases or cancers. On a much larger scale, random mutations are an important tool of evolution.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has picked up many mutations as it spread around the world. Most of these mutations have been inconsequential – the virus didn’t change in any significant way. Others have given rise to variants such as B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which present complications for public health efforts. By studying the evolution of the virus, we can monitor how it’s spreading and predict the characteristics of variants as they are detected.

SARS-CoV-2 variant
David Goodsell Painting of SARS-CoV-2 Virus
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Ancient Origins of a Human Gene Associated with Diabetes

Ancient peopleRecently, researchers of the SIGMA Type 2 Diabetes Consortium published a paper in Nature identifying a new locus associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (1). Considering the increasing prevalence of this metabolic disease in today’s sugar-filled world, any discovery that helps us understand diabetes is exciting news. However, the most interesting discovery published in this paper might not be this new gene variant but rather the origin of this variant in modern human populations: Neandertals.

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