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Conclusions about coronavirus mutations 'are overblown,' scientist says

Scientists are probably exhausted from having to explain that new studies on the coronavirus are far from a sure thing, but, thankfully, they keep setting the record straight anyway.

The latest study to cause a stir came from from a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Los Angeles Times published a report on the paper, which concluded that the COVID-19 coronavirus mutated into a more transmissible (albeit, not necessarily more dangerous) form that is more prevalent in hot spots. The research team, led by Bette Kober, is well-regarded and many of colleagues consider the theory plausible, The Atlantic reports, but that doesn't mean it's likely.

Lisa Gralinksi at the University of North Carolina, one of the few scientists in the world who specializes in coronaviruses, said the conclusions from the paper "are overblown" because they haven't actually been tested. There could be a lot of reasons why the viruses with the mutation are more prevalent, but the simplest is that they just happened to be the ones that got out of China at a higher rate.

Throughout the pandemic, there's been a lot of speculation about mutations creating different strains of the coronavirus that could vary in transmissibility or even lethality, but The Atlantic notes that many mutations are silent and just alter the viruses' appearance, not their functionality. Indeed, several experts said they'd be surprised if the coronavirus had morphed into more than one strain already, since that family of viruses changes at a much slower rate than, say, influenza viruses.

Regardless, Nathan Graubaugh at Yale School of Medicine, who believes there's probably just one strain floating around, thinks focusing too much on mutations "creates a diversion from what we need to be focusing on," including testing vaccines and drugs. Read more at The Atlantic.