As Americans anxiously watch the spread of coronavirus variants that were first identified in Britain and South Africa, scientists are finding a number of new variants that seem to have originated in the United States — and many of them may pose the same kind of extra-contagious threat.
In a study posted on Sunday, a team of researchers reported seven growing lineages of the coronavirus, spotted in states across the country. All have gained a mutation at the exact same spot in their genes.
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and a co-author of the new study.
It’s not clear yet whether this shared mutation makes the variants more contagious, but because it appears in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells, the scientists are highly suspicious.
“I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit,” Dr. Kamil said.
It’s not unusual for different genetic lineages to independently evolve in the same direction. Charles Darwin recognized convergent evolution in animals. Virologists have found that it happens with viruses, too. As the coronavirus…