53 cases of highly mutated R.1 COVID variant detected in California

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The R1 variant is the new strain of COVID-19 researchers are keeping a close eye on. The CDC identified "multiple spike protein mutations" in this variant.

"The R.1 variant does carry some mutations that allow it to be less susceptible to the vaccine," said Dr. Joe DeRisi, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and co-president of Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

Dr. Derisi's team at Biohub is actively sequencing COVID variants.

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Luz Pena: "How would you compare the Delta variant to the R.1 variant? What's the difference?"

Dr. Joe DeRisi: "The Delta variant has quite a few more additional mutations in the spike protein that allows it to spread faster."

The R.1 variant has mutations that were found in the Gamma and Beta variants.

"While it does have some of those worrisome mutations it doesn't have any more mutations than what we've seen before," said Dr. DeRisi.

According to the CDC, the first cases of the R.1 variant in the U.S were detected at a nursing facility in Kentucky where both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents were infected. Meaning this variant has the capability to evade the antibodies produced by the vaccine.

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"The virus is evolving to infect better human cells and to transmit better in the human population," said Lorena Zuliani-Alvarez, PhD principal investigator for UCSF's QBI.

So far 2,282 cases of the R.1 variant have been detected in the U.S since March.

The latest data aggregated by scientists worldwide on the outbreak.info data base, points to 53 cases in California.

Dr. Zuliani Alvarez principle investigator for UCSF's Quantitative Biosciences Institute says they are waiting on more data to understand the power of the R.1 variant.

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"What we have to monitor and check is how well these adaptations are happening," said Dr. Zuliani Alvarez

As it stands now, the Delta variant is the main variant of concern.

It has mutated more than 20 times and continues to be the dominant variant across the U.S.

The R.1 variant proves that mutations will continue to take place. The most effective way to stop these mutations from happening is to get vaccinated.

So far, no R.1 cases have been detected in the Bay Area.

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