A tiny genetic mutation in the SARS coronavirus 2 variant circulating throughout Europe and the United States significantly increases the virus’ ability to infect cells, lab experiments performed at Scripps Research show.

“Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” says Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, PhD, senior author of the study.

The mutation had the effect of markedly increasing the number of functional spikes on the viral surface, she adds. Those spikes are what allow the virus to bind to and infect cells.

“The number—or density—of functional spikes on the virus is 4 or 5 times greater due to this mutation,” Choe says.

The spikes give the coronavirus its crown-like appearance and enable it to latch onto target cell receptors called ACE2. The mutation, called D614G, provides greater flexibility to the…

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