A scientist who reported the existence of a new Covid-19 variant that combines traits from both Delta and Omicron has insisted his findings are correct after experts dismissed them as the result of contamination of laboratory samples.
dr Leonidos Kostrikis, a professor of life sciences at the University of Cyprus, told Cypriot broadcaster Sigma TV that he and his colleagues have identified 25 cases of the so-called “Deltacron” variant, which led to hospitalizations in 11 cases, using their data to the global database submitted to GISAID.
The announcement caused concern over the weekend after it surfaced on social media, prompting several experts to dismiss Dr. to reject Kostrikis.
“Deltacron is not genuine and is likely due to a sequencing artifact (laboratory contamination of Omicron sequence fragments in a Delta sample),” tweeted Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease researcher at the World Health Organization.
“Let’s not merge infectious disease names and leave the celebrity pairing.”
also dr Imperial College London’s Tom Peacock responded to the fear.
“The Cypriot ‘Deltacron’ sequences reported by several major media outlets clearly appear to be a contamination – they do not cluster on a phylogenetic tree and have an entire artic primer sequencing amplicon of Omicron in an otherwise delta backbone.” tweeted the virologist.
“Delta sequences with weird mutations in amplicon 72 have been popping up for ages (e.g. Delta + Mu NTD insertion), but they always show this non-monophyletic pattern and are almost always more easily explained by this primer problem arising on very low level aggravates contact.”
dr Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, a global health expert, also tweeted that Deltacron was most likely the result of sample contamination. but added: “With transmission rates of SARSCoV2 at all-time highs worldwide, it is likely that recombination is occurring and may increase to a level where we see these events more frequently.” Will this lead to more worrying variants? It’s possible, but nobody knows.”
She continued, “The best we can do is think about it and coin variant names that sound like a transformers Bad guy, make sure vaccines are available to everyone and combine vaccination with other strategies that give the virus fewer opportunities to spread.”
However, Dr. Kostrikis has since doubled down on his stance, telling Bloomberg in a statement Sunday that the cases he identified “suggest an evolutionary pressure on an ancestral tribe to acquire these mutations and are not due to a single recombination event.”
He said his team arrived at its findings after the samples had been processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country and that at least one sequence from Israel showed Deltacron’s genetic characteristics.
dr Kostrikis added that Deltacron infection is more common in patients hospitalized for Covid than in non-hospitalized patients, which would rule out the contamination hypothesis.
“These results refute the undocumented claims that Deltacron is the result of a technical error,” he pointed out.