Scientists have suggested a new apparent Coronavirus strain, that combines characteristics of Delta and Omicron, is the result of lab contamination.

Fears were heightened over the weekend after ‘Deltacron’ was said to have emerged from two mutations of the virus. Scientists have said more data about the variant is needed to discover whether it actually exists.

Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, said last week that a Covid-19 strain combining both Delta and Omicron had been found.

“There are currently omicron and delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two,” Kostrikis said in an interview with Sigma TV Friday. 

But, Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,”

“The apparent Omicron mutations are located precisely and exclusively in a section of the sequence encoding the spike gene… affected by a technological artefact in certain sequencing procedures.”

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What is ‘Deltacron’?

Identified in Cyprus, ‘Deltacron’ is said to be a result of contamination, rather than recombination.

The variant is believed to combine characteristics from Delta and Omicron variants and is allegedly a result of a complex laboratory problem.

Prof Katzourakis said the process of accidentally combining fragments of variants when sequencing lots of Covid samples in a lab was “a common error”.

It “happens all the time,” he added.

“It’s not that it’s impossible for recombination between variants to happen. Just, this isn’t evidence of it.

“If it was a real recombination event, when you make a tree of Delta and Deltracron sequences, the Deltacon sequences should form a distinct branch in that tree, indicative of their common ancestry.

“What you see instead, is a mix of the Deltacron sequences within the Delta tree. This means that they do not form a distinct lineage.”

How many cases of ‘Deltacron’ have been reported?

While experts have insisted there is no evidence to suggest that Omicron and Delta have combined to generate a new variant, twenty-five samples have been reported to Gisaid, a global variant database.

How concerned should we be?

Experts are not concerned by ‘Deltacron.’

Professor David Matthews, a virologist at the University of Bristol said, “It’s not one to worry about.”

Michael Hadjipantela, Cypriot health minister, also added that ‘Deltacron’ isn’t of concern and more details will be given at a news conference later this week.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, said the focus of the wider scientific community needed to be on how we “manage the inevitable emergence of new variants and how these are validated and reported.

“Variants will keep popping up as long as the virus continues to spread in under-vaccinated regions. That’s why global vaccination is so important.”

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