A reader asks about coronavirus mutations

Cover of June 6, 2020 issue

Viral heritage

Lab experiments are needed to see if mutations in the new coronavirus change how the virus infects cells, Erin Garcia de Jesus reported in “The new coronavirus is mutating” (SN: 6/20/20, p. 7).

Reader Roger W. Yoerges asked if a person could be infected with multiple forms, or variants, of a virus at once. He wondered if that would allow very infectious variants to spread more.

That’s a fantastic question, G­arcia de Jesus says. “Given how RNA viruses replicate, their progeny typically are different from the parent viruses,” she says. During an infection, progeny can form groups of viral particles that have a mix of mutations. Some rare variants within a group may have mutations that change how those viruses work, including how they infect cells, Garcia de Jesus says. Those mutations, whether good or bad for the virus, don’t guarantee that variants with the mutations will spread to the next host. Only a few variants will spread, perhaps due to random chance.

Editor’s note

On July 22, Nature retracted the study described in “Gamers rise to physics challenge” (SN: 5/14/16, p. 7) at the researchers’ request. Because of an error in the computer code, the researchers say, their findings — that humans outperformed a computer game that simulated quantum mechanics — are not valid.

Nature also retracted the study described in “This ancient dinosaur was no bigger than a hummingbird” (SN: 4/11/20, p. 4) at the researchers’ request. “Although the description of Oculudentavis khaungraae remains accurate, a new unpublished specimen casts doubts upon our hypothesis regarding the [species’s] phylogenetic position,” paleontologist Jingmai O’Connor and colleagues write in the retraction. A recent study posted online at bioRxiv.org examined the creature’s skull and suggested that it is not a dinosaur, but a lizard. In an e-mail to Science News, O’Connor concedes Oculudentavis probably was a lizard, but she maintains the animal is an important discovery.


Mars dust storm danger” (SN: 7/4/20 & 7/18/20, p. 24) incorrectly identified Opportunity mission team member Keri Bean’s role in 2018. She had just joined the rover-driving team after having been part of the rover‑operations team since 2007.