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ASU virologist predicted a variant like omicron would come

Posted at 9:30 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 23:30:00-05

PHOENIX — Arizona State University virologists are keeping their eyes on the omicron variant, which has already been proven to be more infectious than even delta.

The delta variant is currently the dominant coronavirus strain in the world.

Back in September, virologist Efrem Lim told ABC15 there would be a day when a more infectious variant would come.

Now, he and his colleagues are working tirelessly to learn everything they can about omicron, inside ASU's Biodesign Institute sequencing lab.

“We have an established response plan for any variant of concern, including the omicron variant, that is detected here,” Lim told ABC15.

It’s a plan, he says, coordinated at a state and federal level.

“So that we can do contact tracing and take mitigation steps to prevent transmission of omicron,” added Lim.

While Lim predicted it was only a matter of time before a variant like omicron would out-compete Delta, he didn’t expect a variant quite like this one.

“In this case what’s surprising is the number of mutations we’re seeing with the omicron variant. For example, the delta variant has about five to eight mutations in the spike protein. However, the omicron variant has more than 30 different mutations,” he added.

This is why the omicron variant seems to be more transmissible than the delta variant and is yet another reason why he says it’s more important than ever that he and his team continue looking for answers, to stay one step ahead of the next mutation.

“Every week we sequence more than thousands of genomes to give us a statewide surveillance of SARS-COVID-2 cases. This lets us understand what genomes are circulated around the state,” Lim added.

Lim also says that since September, the lab has doubled its sequencing equipment, to prepare for any new variants that come their way.

The ASU virologist adds, until we can get the coronavirus under control, here’s what you can do to stay safe:

“We should still continue to wear a mask, social distancing, and for people that have not been vaccinated, definitely get vaccinated,” Lim told ABC15