Congrats to us all: Despite ominous reports you may have seen on social media over the weekend, assorted COVID-19 experts believe “Deltacron” — a supposed coronavirus super-strain — does not exist. This after troubling news out of Cyprus, where a researcher warned of a possible new COVID variant featuring “Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genomes.” Surely not a possibility anyone wants to consider, but mercifully, researchers attribute the emergence of Deltacron to a lab error. Probably.
On Saturday, Bloomberg reported that Leondios Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and the head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology, had identified a strain combining both highly infectious variants, which he thought was responsible for 25 COVID-19 cases. “We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious or if it will prevail,” Kostrikis warned. Spooky — but then came other scientists with their own opinions.
Per CNBC, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, a member of the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical team, batted down the Deltacron claim as a probable issue in the lab: “contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen.” One Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist with the Imperial College London, tweeted that the evil sequences “look to be quite clearly contamination,” which apparently happens in all labs at least sometimes. Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, a virologist and researcher at Emory University, agreed, asking the public to “please interpret with caution” when faced with ominous accounts of alleged super-variants.
Apparently, real doctors don’t like it when we mash viral names into handy portmanteaus such as “Deltacron” and “flurona” — which, to be clear, never referred to the birth of a new virus but the possibility of getting both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time — because these monikers can catch on quickly and create panic. But Kostrikis, for his part, maintains the cases he found did not come from a “technical error.” In a statement, he said they “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations” and are “not a result of a single recombination event.” And me personally? I am choosing to forget I ever heard about Deltacron as a concept, please and no thanks.