The rate of mortality and mobility has increased immensely worldwide in the past two years due to the constant appearance of various coronavirus variants creating concerns in the global health community aneresulting in adverse impacts on socioeconomic conditions (1-4). The most recent variant of concern is the highly mutated B.1.1.529
called the omicron variant, which has become the most dominant strain in most nations, causing an immense rush in coronavirus cases. It has been reported that till January 2022, the omicron variant has resulted in a cumulative three hundred million positive cases and deaths around five million (3,5-7).
Every new variant that has been uncovered has been found to have the potential to behave in a different way than the original virus. Normally, a single variant of coronavirus generally infects an individual but in an extremely rare case, two variants, however, may simultaneously strike. Recently, such reports have surfaced with regards to the emergence of a double variant named Delmicron. It is the belief of experts that this new variant is behind the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Europe and the United States according to the Chief Medical Officer of Moderna that immunocompromised patients can harbor both of these strains as both variants can infect an individual concurrently (8,9).
WHAT IS DELMICRON?
Similar to alpha, beta, and other variants, delmicron is not considered as a new mutated variant because it is suspected to be created by the combination of one of the deadliest variants, Delta, and the variant with most mutations, omicron of the coronavirus. This double variant is building a renewed upwelling of coronavirus cases in Europe, North America, and India, however, WHO authentication and explorative studies can only confirm these assumptions (10). The name “Delmicron” is fashioned by amalgamation of two already identified variants of coronavirus; Delta and Omicron. The delmicron variant is suspected to be more transmissible and spreading rapidly and concerns have been raised for the likelihood of a fourth wave of coronavirus pandemic globally (ii).
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT DELMICRON?
On 7th January 2022, a virologist from Cyprus named Leondios Kostrikis reported that
his group of researchers has identified several genomes of coronavirus at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia and these genomes possess features of both delta and omicron variants (12). The same evening, 25 sequences were uploaded on the popular public repository by his team and 27 more were also uploaded a few days later.
The scientific community was also swift to give a response. Many specialists pointed out that these uploaded sequences do not indicate a new variant and thus, it is not generated by recombination – the sharing of genetic information between the viruses-but speculated to be a result of contamination in the lab. A member of the WHO technical team for Covid-19 commented that there is no such thing as a delmicron (13).
Moreover, the Director of the COVID-19 G-enomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, Dr. Jeffery Barrett also believes that discovery was a result of lab error. He commented that this does not indicate biological recombination resulting from lineages of delta and omicron variants because the mutations of the omicron are exclusively and precisely located at the place in the sequence that encodes the spike gene that can get disturbed by a technological artifact during sequencing procedures (14).
IS THE EMERGENCE OF DELMICRON A SPREAD OF MISINFORMATION?
The story is very complicated behind the focus on a small crop of a coronavirus
sequence. Although the ability of the system to catch a possible error in sequencing was applauded by some researchers, others also commented that such an incidence might offer a cautionary action for misinformation to be spread during times of pandemic.
According to Kostrikis, a misconstruction of his original hypothesis and its aspects have been taken and he never reported that a hybrid is represented by these sequences despite the name.
Furthermore, Dr. Kostrikis also defended his hypothesis and asserted that since in hospitalized patients, the rate was higher for delmicron infection in comparison to the non-hospitalized patients, therefore the chances were less likely for contamination
hypothesis (15). He also added that the processing of the sample in which delmicron was identified was carried out in several procedures for sequencing in various countries.
Therefore, it reduces the likelihood that any lab erir occurred. In addition, 52 cases of delmicron have been reported by the Cyprus team to the Cyprus Mail and the health minister of Cyprus also fortified the outcomes reported by Dr. Kostrikis and his team (14).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The sequences of the mutations identified by Dr. Kostrikis and his team have been pointed out by other researchers has not been a result of contamination but these are also not exclusive to the variant omicron because these have been established in other variants as well. This makes Dentron somewhat a misnomer. It is a known fact that several sequences are present in Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) (a large database tracking the viruses and any changes occurring in their genome) having a similar element that is present in other variants. Such sequences should not be debunked by the majority because it is not getting much attention from the media.
Up till now 25 cases of delmicron have been identified out of which 11 cases were recognized in the individuals who were hospitalized with severe symptoms of coronavirus while fourteen people determined with delmicron were not hospitalized. This may not create much worry at present but it is debatable whether delmicron is a true variant of coronavirus or not. It calls for further research to determine the exact nature of delmicron and its representation. GISAID is currently tracking it. The news of a new variant might be discouraging to hear and one might wonder if this new variant will present with symptoms more severe or it will spread more rapidly. Only time can tell whether this is an actual variant as reported by Dr. Kostrikis and his team or it was just laboratory contamination during the sequencing procedure.
- Dhama K, Khan 5, Tiwari R, Sircar 5, Bhat S, Malik YS, et al. Coronavirus Disease 2019-COVID-19. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2020 Sep 16 ;33(4):e00028-20.
- Mohapatra RK, Pintilie L, Kandi V, Sarangi AK, Das D, Saha R, et al. The recent challenges of highly contagious COVID-19, causing respiratory infections: Symptoms, diagnosis, transmission, possible vaccines, animal models, and Chem Biol Drug Des. 2020 Nov;96(5):1187-208.
- World Health Organization. WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard [Internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 3]. Available from: https://covidl9.who.int
- Thakur V, Bhola S, Thakur P, Patel SKS, Kulshrestha S, Ratho RK, et al. Waves and variants of SARS-CoV-2: understanding the causes and effect of the COVID-19 Infection. 2021 Dec 16;
- Mohapatra RK, Sarangi AK, Kandi V, Azam M, Tiwari R, Dhama K. Omicron (B.1.1.529 variant of SARS-CoV-2); an emerging threat: Current global scenario. J Med Virol [Internet]. 2021 Dec 1 [cited 2022 Feb 3]; Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.27561
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 2022 Jan 25]. Available from: https://witnv.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncovivariants/variant-classifications.html
- World Health Organization. Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 21]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(126.96.36.1999)- sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern
- Financial Express. What exactly is ‘Delmicron’? Scientists warn of super strain —Here’s all about its origin, mutation, etc [Internet]. The Financial Express. [cited 2022 Feb 41. Available from: https://www.financialexpress.comilifestyle/health/what-exactly-is-delmicronscie ntists-warn-of-super-strain-h eres-all-abo ut-its-origin-mutation-etc/ 2389547/
- The Times of India. Coronavirus new variant Delmicron: What is COVID-19 variant Delmicron and how is it different from Omicron? The Times of India [Internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 4]; Available from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/covid-19-variant-what-is-delmicron-and-how-is-it-different-from-omicron/photostory/88472473.cms?picid=884725i6
- Republic World. Is Delmicron a new COVID variant? How is it different from Omicron? [Internet]. Republic World. [cited 2022 Feb 4]. Available from: https://iArww.republicworld.comitechnology-newsiscience/is-delmicron-a-newcovid-variant-how-is-it-different-from-omicron.html
IndiaTimes. Delta Plus Omicron Are Driving COVID Surge Now, Know Symptoms,
Mortality Rate [Internet]. IndiaTimes. 2021 [cited 2022 Feb 4]. Available from: https : iiArww. in di atimes. corn/news/ indiai omicron-delmicron-west-us-europe557582.html
12, Deltacron, New Strain That Combines Delta And Omicron, Found In Cyprus [Internet]. NDTV.com. [cited 2022 Feb 4].
Available from: https://www.ndtv.comiworld-newsinew-covid-19-variant-deltacron-found-incyprus-2698332
- Kuppalli K. Okay people let’s make this a teachable moment, there is no such thing as #Deltacron (Just like there is no such thing as #Flurona) #0micron and #Delta did NOT form a super variant This is likely sequencing artifact (lab contamination of Omicron fragments in a Delta specimen) [Internet]. @ICrutikaKuppalli. 2022 [cited 2022 Feb 4]. Available from: https://twitter.com/KrutikaKuppalliitstatus/148o235651547025408
- Deltacron: Is there a new variant at large, and should we worry? [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Feb 4]. Available from:
Scientist defends discovery of Deltacron variant [Internet]. The Independent. 2022 [cited 2022 Feb 4]. Available from: https://www.independent.co.ukinews/healthideltacron-covid-variant-newcyprus-b198