Tartu University researchers find two coronavirus strains unique to Estonia

Coronavirus graphical representation.
Coronavirus graphical representation. Source: Pixabay

Researchers at the University of Tartu have discovered two mutations of the coronavirus which so far have been found only in Estonia. Eight more mutations which are also found in other parts of the world have been identified.

All the strains belong to the SARS-CoV-2 group A2a, whose spread probably started in northern Italy and has spread mostly within Europe, Aare Abroi, virology research fellow at the University of Tartu said.

Virus strains in Estonia can currently be divided into two categories, though further analysis is needed to establish in how many cases coronavirus has entered Estonia and the extent to which it has spread, and also if the two categories equate to the outbreaks on Saaremaa and in Võru County, at opposite ends of the country, the two most affected regions per capita in the pandemic so far.

"Whether these groups coincide with the Saaremaa and Võru outbreaks must be further clarified together with epidemiological and clinical data," said Radko Avi, Senior Research Fellow in Medical Virology at the university.

The study's long-term goal is to develop a methodology for the analysis of new, hitherto unknown viral infections, and to generate home-grown knowledge in the field, freeing up research from a dependence on foreign assistance, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

The University of Tartu researchers analyzed the genomic sequences of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) taken from six subjects, all Estonian citizens, according to a university press release Tuesday.

In the first phase of the study, different genomic regions of SARS-CoV-2 were analyzed in six virus strains found in samples taken in mid-March. 

A further goal is to sequence the complete genome of viruses among a larger sample of Estonian coronavirus patients. This would make it possible to identify the virus' vectors, and to shed light on cases of infection which have originated from any as yet unidentified sources.

The genomic sequences of the coronavirus strains were determined and analyzed by Radko Avi and Aare Abroi as noted, along with Taavi Päll, researcher in medical microbiology from the working group headed up by Irja Lutsar,  virology professor and head of the government's research council.

In sequencing, they were supported by Tuuli Reisberg, Head of the Sequencing Laboratory at Tartu University's Institute of Genomics, Mait Metspalu, Research Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at the university, and Ulvi Gerst Talas, scientific programmer at the university's Institute of Computer Science.

Anonymous samples were shared with researchers by Tallinn-based private sector medical laboratory SYNLAB. The study was funded by the University of Tartu.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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