How viruses mutate over time

Viruses mutate over time to spread faster and infect more vigorously than previous strains

Judy Silva, Food Editor

Due to the spread of COVID-19 and now the Delta-variant, copious amounts of people are asking how it has lasted this long. Foremost, what is a virus?
The Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit medical center, states “all viruses are made up of a bundle of genetic material that is covered by a protective coating of proteins.”
“A virus is a non-living agent that infects life,” said Tianna Raught, a biology teacher.
Viruses hold genetic material, but can not replicate their own instead they can only replicate inside of a host cell. When a virus infects a host cell, they hijack that cell’s structures and force it to create new viruses. Eventually, all the new viruses are released from the cell and the viruses can infect other cells. Resulting in it making its way out of the host’s body to infect the cells of the other organisms.
UnityPoint Health, a health provider located in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin says that a mutation is when a virus replicates, and the resulting copy has differences in DNA or RNA, the differences are the mutation.
Virus changes can be caused by pure error, pressure from select cells in the body, or the creation of a vaccine.
The more people that can get infected means that there is a higher likelihood of the virus mutating.
“​​Virus mutations transpire in a similar way to animal mutation/evolution,” said Raught.
When a virus is replicated, the genetic material has to be copied repetitively. Sometimes there are errors that occur during the copying process that do not get corrected. Those errors cause a change in the virus’s structure, which can either hurt its ability to replicate or it can help the virus replicate better. When an abundant amount of mutations appear, that is a variant.
“You can not prevent a virus from mutating; however, you can prevent the mutated virus from spreading,” said Raught.
That will cause the mutations to be less common and possibly disappear completely. If a virus mutates, but it is not able to infect more hosts, that mutation goes unnoticed. Some methods for preventing the spread of the mutation are through isolating, quarantining, and getting vaccinations.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a non-for-profit research and educational institution, says that due to the spike protein being cut efficiently causing the Delta-variant spread like wildfire. Essentially, the virus was able to attach to cells more efficiently, allowing it to replicate more often.