Cyprus Scientists Discover ‘Deltacron’ COVID Strain

Medics in the Cypriot village of Evrychou in the Nicosia district, prepare to inoculate an inhabitant with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (AFP Photo)

A researcher in Cyprus discovered a strain of the coronavirus that combines the Delta and Omicron variant, Bloomberg News reported on Saturday.

Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology, called the strain “Deltacron,” because of its Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genomes.

So far, Kostrikis and his team have found 25 cases of the virus, according to the report. It’s still too early to tell whether there are more cases of the strain or what impacts it could have.

“We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious or if it will prevail” against the two dominant strains, Delta and Omicron, Kostrikis said in an interview with Sigma TV Friday.

The researchers sent their findings to GISAID, an international database that tracks viruses, according to Bloomberg.

Other scientists have speculated that Kostrikis’s findings are a result of laboratory contamination.

The Cypriot scientist has defended his assertion that the new strain of COVID-19 exists.

He told Bloomberg in an emailed statement Sunday that the cases he has identified “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”

Deltacron infection is higher among patients hospitalised for COVID-19 than among non-hospitalised patients, so that rules out the contamination hypothesis, said Kostrikis.

What’s more, the samples were processed in multiple sequencing procedures in more than one country. And at least one sequence from Israel deposited in a global database exhibits genetic characteristics of Deltacron, he said.

“These findings refute the undocumented statements that Deltacron is a result of a technical error,” Kostrikis said.

Viral genes determine the forms of proteins that perform a number of specific tasks. Omicron and Delta each have mutations in the spike protein that affect their ability to enter human cells, with Omicron becoming more infectious as a result.

Recombinant forms of viruses can arise when there are multiple variants of a pathogen circulating, said Nick Loman, a microbial genomics professor at England’s University of Birmingham who studies the coronavirus. While a recombinant form of Delta and Omicron wouldn’t be a complete surprise, the finding from Cyprus is more likely a “technical artefact” that arose in the process of sequencing the viral genome, he said. 

Cypriot Health Minister Michael Hadjipantela said Sunday that the new variant isn’t of concern, and more details will be given at a news conference this week, Philenews reported.