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Why new COVID-19 variants are on the rise and spreading

For many countries, like the U.S. and Canada, where the number of COVID-19 cases has been precariously rising, a variant that increases transmission by 40-80 per cent threatens to push us over the top. Photo: Pexels

(Sara Otto/ The Conversation) –– A new variant of coronavirus has swept across the United Kingdom and been detected in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Scientists are concerned that these new strains may spread more easily.

As an evolutionary biologist, I study how mutation and selection combine to shape changes in populations over time. Never before have we had so much real-time data about evolution as we do with SARS-CoV-2: over 380,000 genomes were sequenced last year.

SARS-CoV-2 has been mutating as it spreads, generating slight differences in its genome. These mutations allow scientists to trace who is related to whom across the family tree of the virus. (…)

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