A scientist in an island country discovers that in dozens of COVID-19 patients, the Delta and Omicron viral variants have fused genetically to form a third variant, more powerful and deadly than any before.
If it seems like science fiction, that’s because it probably is.
Reports over the weekend set the internet abuzz with news of a new variant known as “Deltacron,” discovered in Cyprus by Leondios Kostrikis, PhD, of the University of Cyprus Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology. Bloomberg first reported that Kostrikis, speaking on the Cypriot station Sigma TV, said the new strain combined elements of Delta and Omicron and could have come from patients with “coinfection” of both variants of SARS-CoV-2 at the same time
But other experts, responding on Twitter, said that this alleged mega-variant was likely just a result of lab contamination. Tom Peacock, PhD, of the Barclay Laboratory of Imperial College London, wrote that this kind of contamination isn’t uncommon in labs. He tweeted that “very, very tiny volumes of liquid can cause this” kind of sequencing contamination, but “usually these fairly clearly contaminated sequences are not reported by major media outlets.”
In other words, a lab that had been sequencing samples of Delta and then got started sequencing samples of Omicron could pick up traces of the older genetic material in their new analyses, which would then mistakenly show a variant with elements of both variants. In this case, genetic mutations normally found in Delta would appear on an Omicron “backbone.”