Northwestern University researchers have discovered Chicago has a unique COVID-19 virus strain that appears to be directly linked from the early outbreak in China, the university said in a news release Thursday.
Another variant discovered in Chicago COVID-19 patients, which happens to be the predominant variant worldwide, and in the U.S. is centered in New York, generates more of the virus in the upper airways than the Chicago version.
“This is the first clear evidence that genetic differences in the viruses are associated with differences in the characteristics of the infections that they cause,” said Dr. Egon Ozer, an assistant professor in infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician.
Dr. Ozer, along with other researchers, are studying whether genetic mutations translate into functional differences.
“These differences might help us understand where a vaccine might be most effective, because they show where these proteins are under selective pressure,” he said. “That could indicate where you might get the most bang for your buck in the potential vaccine.”
Dr. Ozer said that because Chicago is a transportation hub, the city is a melting pot for different variants of the virus.
To perform the study, which has not been peer-reviewed, researchers collected residual specimens from COVID-19 tests performed on 88 Northwestern Medicine patients. The viruses were then whole-genome sequenced from these specimens, the news release stated.
The genome sequences were compared to each other to look for genetic differences and group the viruses by genetic similarity.