Omicron Variant Contains a “Greatest Hits” Collection of Mutations

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Viral surveillance has once more proven its usefulness as researchers in South Africa alerted the world to the growing prevalence of Omicron—a new SARS-CoV-2 variant which, on November 26, was designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Variant of Concern.1 In the short time since it was first described in South Africa in November, Omicron has spread to at least 20 countries including the United States. 2

Scientists first took notice of Omicron because viral surveillance data showed that it has a large number of mutations in the gene that encodes the virus’ spike protein. And alarmingly, many of these mutations have previously been associated with enhanced transmissibility, increased infectivity, and higher resistance to both vaccines and neutralizing immunotherapeutics. This collection of “greatest hits” mutations suggests that Omicron has the potential to spread more effectively than previous variants. However, more data will need to be gathered. For now, it remains to be seen if this variant will actually present with any of these concerning traits.

Helix is actively monitoring all known variants, including Omicron, in the US by sequencing thousands of samples weekly from across the nation, with the majority originating in Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana and Florida. We’ve begun to see Omicron in samples collected in late November. Per public health protocol, we report findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments before updating our national COVID-19 viral surveillance dashboard. Please continue to look to the CDC for the latest information.

As we have in the past, we will follow proper public health reporting guidelines and immediately report any findings to the CDC and the appropriate state departments of public health, and will update our national COVID-19 viral surveillance dashboard accordingly.  Please look to the CDC for the latest public information.

There is still much to learn about the Omicron variant, and hopefully like Mu and Lambda it will struggle to establish a foothold, but the only way to know will be through reliable data.






Helix is the leading population genomics and viral surveillance company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and data analytics.
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