Dangerous new strains of the novel coronavirus are spreading fast across the United States. And they all have at least one thing in common: a mutation scientists call “N501Y” that makes the virus more likely to infect our cells.
It gets worse. Indications are that at least two of the three major new strains—the ones from the United Kingdom and South Africa—evolved their N501Y mutations independently. In other words, there’s a good chance the U.K. and South African strains aren’t directly related. One didn’t evolve into the other.