Let This College Professor Explain Exactly How a New Strain of the COVID-19 Virus Can Mutate

A new strain of highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 was recently reported in the United Kingdom. The variant is known as B.1.1.7 or VUI-202012/01 and has been identified in COVID-19 patients as early as September. According to The New York Times, as viruses impact populations and replicate, mutations occur, and this new variant is up to 70 percent more transmissible.

A college professor using the TikTok account @scitimewithtracy, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology, showed a visual representation of how this virus can mutate to become more infectious and attach to our cells. The expert explained many of the cells in our bodies have ACE2 (short for a receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) proteins, which act as doorways for the spike protein of the novel coronavirus to latch onto — this is how the SARS-CoV-2 virus can get into cell membranes and cause COVID-19.

In the video above, the professor with over 130,000 followers explains that when the shape of an ACE2 protein or spike protein is altered, it can be easier or more difficult for them to bind together. "Infectious means you need fewer viral particles in order to cause disease," she says. "What probably happened is that the spike protein mutation in the UK changed the conformation so that this virus can now bind a little better, and therefore you need fewer viral particles and it's more infectious."

In a follow-up video, the professor explains that just because the new strain is more infectious does not mean it's more deadly. "The symptom profile once you're infected seems to be the same," she says. The video also stresses that the COVID-19 vaccines will most likely be effective against the new strain, and other experts told The New York Times similar predictions. Research on this new variant, though, is ongoing at this time.

The professor, who only wanted us to use her first name, told POPSUGAR that she started this data-backed TikTok channel at the end of November "because there were so many people who were uninterested in getting the vaccine." She noted, "I couldn't believe it, so I made a video to ask why, and it was immediately clear that most people didn't understand the underlying biology." Then, the channel was born, and she gained thousands of followers. "I think of this as a public service," she said. "It's important, timely, and relevant. And, I'm in a position to do it, so I will continue as long as I need to."

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.