A healthcare worker carries a sample at a COVID-19 walk-in testing site in San Pablo, CA on Tuesday, April 28, 2020Share on Pinterest
A healthcare worker carries a sample at a COVID-19 walk-in testing site in San Pablo, CA, on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Experts have detected the R.1 variant of SARS-CoV-2 around the world since late 2020.
  • The variant shares some mutations with other variants that are more infectious.
  • However, scientists say that the R.1 variant is not of concern and that the Delta variant is still dominant in many countries.

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Since SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, first emerged and rapidly spread, one thing scientists were confident of was that the virus would mutate over time.

Viruses spread by infecting the cells of a host organism, replicating, and then transmitting themselves to another host organism.

However, when a virus replicates, there is a chance the replication process can go wrong. This creates a mutation in the genetic code. Viruses that contain the mutated genetic code are called variants.

Some mutations may not change how transmissible a virus is — others may boost the new variant’s ability to cause infection in new hosts, reduce it, or leave it unchanged.

Less infectious virus variants stop being transmitted and are more likely to die out. Variants that are still infectious can continue spreading, while variants that are more infectious will rapidly spread.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, scientists have detected several variants. The Delta variant, for instance, is highly infectious relative to previous variants of SARS-CoV-2 and is becoming the dominant variant in many countries worldwide.

The Delta variant has also been more effective at evading the antibodies that SARS-CoV-2 vaccines generate.

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Another variant that has received some attention is called R.1. Scientists first detected the R.1 variant in Texas in October 2020. Since then, experts have identified the variant in Japan in November 2020 and more recently in California in September 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the R.1 variant one of many Variants Under Monitoring. These are variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have mutations that may make them more infectious or dangerous, but scientists do not yet have enough information to know for sure.

However, according to scientific experts, the public should not be overly concerned about the R.1 variant at this stage.

Prof. Andrew Preston, a professor of microbial pathogenesis at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, spoke with Medical News Today. He said:

“The R.1 variant is just one of many SARS-CoV-2 lineages that carries a number of mutations. Several of the mutations are those that have been found in other variants of concern, such as the E484K mutation found in the Beta-variant lineages and associated with higher levels of escape from neutralizing antibodies.”

“R.1 [has now] spread globally. There are sporadic reports of R.1 causing outbreaks in certain settings or establishments leading to reports of it being of increased virulence or transmissibility.”

“However, R.1 has not become dominant in the way that the Alpha variant did and that the Delta variant is currently. If the R.1 variant is more transmissible than some of the original lineages, it appears that it is not sufficiently transmissible to out-compete the Delta variant.”

– Prof. Preston

Dr. Andrew Lee, from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield, U.K., agrees.

Speaking to MNT, Dr. Lee explained that R.1 “has the D614G mutation that is associated with increased infectivity — but this is the same mutation found in the variant that struck Europe in the spring of 2020 — and the E484K mutation that is linked with increased resistance to antibodies — [also] present in the Beta variant.”

“That said, [R.1] is not growing substantially and certainly shows no evidence of a selective advantage over the Delta variant. The latter is much more infectious than the original wild type SARS-CoV-2, or the Alpha variant, and continues to out-compete virtually all the other variants at the moment — including some with D614G or E484K mutations,” said Dr. Lee.

Prof. Preston pointed out that the R.1 variant does not show evidence of being able to evade SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

“There is no clear evidence that R.1 variants have any greater vaccine escape potential than other variants, and it looks like vaccines offer similar levels of protection as they do against other currently circulating variants.”

“R.1 is one of an ever-growing number of variants. It is right for the world to be on the lookout for new variants and to make efforts to assess the potential impacts of novel mutations or novel combinations of mutations. It is likely that we will need to maintain this vigilance for some time to come.”

– Prof. Preston

According to Dr. Lee, “[t]he public should not be overly concerned. The public health level of concern is low, as reflected by the fact both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the WHO have not assessed it to be a variant of concern or variant of interest/under investigation.”

“Moreover, the control measures are exactly the same: good ventilation, facemask use, physical distancing, hygiene, vaccination, isolation of [people with the infection], etc.,” added Dr. Lee.

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